How do we develop students for democracy?

There are a variety of approaches one can take when accompanying high school students in their journey to become citizens. Westheimer and Kahne (What Kind of Citizen? The Politics of Educating for Democracy, 2004) describe two approaches – one that develops citizens who can organize projects to make their community better, the other that centers on issue analysis from a social justice perspective.

I have a background in public education and as a high school teacher, I took students to the Dominican Republic to the sugar cane town of Consuelo. Based on my experiences, this project wavered between participatory and social justice. To take a social justice approach would challenge students to explain why such grinding poverty exists in a place best known for its sunny beaches.

There is a social justice orientation to trips to the Dominican, but are the effects of the trip long-lasting?

Conducting participatory citizenship programs in Catholic high schools is less risky than examining power imbalances and injustice. Even though Catholic schools are supposed to work within a social justice framework, most educators are more comfortable doing things rather than examining the injustice and imbalance that exist in the relationship between the Global South and North.

In the same school, every year we had a canned food drive. Our school was very good at this. At no time did any of us question why there was a need for a program to prop up community food banks. We were just doing a good thing and we all felt proud of our efforts.

Much in the same way while we tried to examine the social causes of inequity in the Global South, I do think that many of our students were caught up in the romance of travelling to an exotic (and very poor) country. It is much easier to do something rather than see yourself as part of a larger social problem.

Consider this:

Why would justice-oriented projects be more of a challenge to run in a state-supported institution like a school?

The authors contend that developing a commitment to civic participation and social justice do not necessarily align. Do you agree with this statement, or is it possible to do both at the same time?

The questions I posed this week focused on how justice-orientated projects challenge the status quo in our publicly-run schools. The second question explored the possibility that justice and participatory citizenship projects can align.

The responses to these questions focused on the difficulty of enacting justice-orientated programs in schools mainly because teachers and students do not have the time to get involved in social justice issues. The one exception to this might be in schools that are experiencing social injustice. For example, students and teachers might get involved in a campaign against online bullying if this is an issue in their community.

Another response focused on the difficulty in aligning participatory programs with social justice issues. A school may take part in a civic participation program supported or initiated by the police, or a school could organize an information session with the school resource officer (SRO). It is hard to fathom a school running a justice-orientated program at the same time that focuses on critiques of the police as an institution that participates in violence against racialized populations.

After reading and responding to the comments, there are a few points that I want to reemphasize. Based on my experiences as a teacher and an administrator, educators and students do get involved in participatory citizenship initiatives on a regular basis. Schools do not normally sponsor justice-orientated activities, but this is not because teachers do not have enough time. 

As a principal, I thought SRO programs were great. I don’t think so anymore.

Social justice leads to a critique of the power imbalances that exist in our society. The school as a public institution can actually encourage and support these imbalances. Take, for example, the steaming of grade 9 courses or SRO programs that bring police officers into the schools. The school system encourages compliance, not criticism. There is little alignment between programming that focuses on participation and social justice. In fact, participatory good citizen projects are a safe alternative to questioning the injustices that exist in our society.

One approach that has the potential to align participatory citizenship programs and social justice initiatives would be the Head Heart and Hands approach. For this to work there needs to be contemplation and analysis linked to concrete actions.

Researcher’s Journal – Learning is Hard

I am writing this for me, but you can read this if you want.

Whoever said that failure is good, that’s how students learn. Have you tried it? It is good learning, but it is really hard.

So, I want to read this post in January when my comprehensive exams are over. I did a mock version of my research question and I failed miserably. I think there is probably a comment on every paragraph I wrote. And I appreciate every comment. Two very busy academics took the time to go over every word I wrote, the fact that I came up short is good, it gives me something to work on.

It is hard after a long and pretty successful career to start over. It is like learning Spanish in downtown Consuelo (in the DR) you feel a little like a baby, each step is tentative, and everything is risky.

taking baby steps again

I certainly didn’t have to do this, but I have to take the long view right now. The courses were the easy part, the comprehensives are really serious and no one is going to give you a break here. I have six months to get ready for the comprehensives. My original research question was too much, it was a bit like flying in the face of a hurricane. I winced, so I need to move on.

My old question is gone, I don’t think I even understood what I was asking. I am going back to something I have experienced – how does one assess and use digital resources as a credible learning tool when there are no rules? Textbooks were easy, they were written by credible publishers and they have been approved by our provincial government.

starting with words and pictures

Web information is different – this is a totally unregulated field. Does anyone understand how dangerous this can be? What is a good source? Who is behind the site? What is available at 8:30 in the morning when you have a 90-minute class to teach?

I think I was focusing on themes that were not my own. If you are going to spend four years studying something, you better choose something that you care about deeply. My advisors gently moved me away from a theme that really didn’t resonate. Digital literacy and the curation of learning resources for teachers and students is something I am passionate about. While textbooks are still produced for schools, people (school boards) don’t want to invest as much in digital materials. The temptation is to use Google – Google is free, Google will tell you what you need to know.

When I worked on a committee that advised the school board on digital implementation this attitude was shared by many. When something is free and it looks good it is very hard to convince people to invest in content and staff training to effectively use this content. This was shocking to me, but it makes sense. Digital curation is really hard and it costs money. School boards still focus on expensive textbooks. The idea that you should pay for digital content is still a bit of a reach.

So here is my new question:

Digital literacies and the teaching of history – the development of critical thinking skills to assess and curate learning material for the classroom.

This is my old question, not answering this well has taught me a great deal:

Drawing on existing history education scholarship, how have different writers sought to critically address the teaching of history education in Canada? In your response draw on the scholarly literature to show 1) the role of historical thinking concepts in Canada; 2) the tensions that currently exist; and 3) how these relate to settler colonial narratives about Canada’s past.

Thanks very much to my course prof and my academic advisor for taking the considerable time to go over my work. I am sure this was not easy to do and it took lots of time. Yes, in the trial run I didn’t do very well, but I will keep and read again every comment that they have written. Failure is tough, failure is liberating and it can be a wonderful teacher.

This where I start again. I am getting really good
material on comprehensive exams and new resources!

My Academic Life (continues)

At the beginning of this year, I started work on my first assignment for the second semester. We were asked to develop a schedule for our academic work over the next few years – what would the day-to-day look like?

I wrote this assignment as a blog post and here it is.

Eleven days after I wrote this post, my mother died. We were then under the ludicrous convoy occupation and soon after that in an act reminiscent of the Second World War, Russia invaded Ukraine.

My schedule looks a little silly now.

Being in school; being a principal had some semblance of order. This calls for a different sort of calendar.

I do try to write in the morning. It sounds like a lovely idea, but that always doesn’t work out. I am writing this now at the end of a long day and a long week of writing and researching every day. Learn something new – work when you can, be more flexible, schedules crumble. (but, I am writing the final version this morning – much better)

I have done it. Three very demanding courses along with lots of thinking about what I will be writing about and researching for the next three years. The elements of the new plan reside in the questions I have been writing about for the past two weeks:

Some fragments

Choose a qualitative methodology – OK Critical Participatory Action Research (PAR). This was a true revelation for me. In PAR the actions and research are situationed in the real world. The product does not necessarily return to the academy, instead it is left in the hands of the participants. This type of work shows the ultimate respect for the subject and breaks down the barriers that usually exist in qualitative research. This reseach has true meaning and that is an inspiration. PAR is framed in social justice and focuses on revealing truth – truth with a plan – to the people who are part of the project. This kind of work offers so many incredible opportunities!

(Source: P. McGuire 2011. What an adventure it would be to return to San Jose Las Flores to take part in a PAR project with these teachers!)

how have different writers sought to critically address the teaching of history education in Canada? – Here is a question that will stay with me. I wonder what people in our country think about their history? While it seems to be different in Quebec, most Canadian students have to take only one course in Canadian history while in high school. I have taught this course and have seen it taught many times. Most students see it as something they have to get through. Most probably come out of the course with a rudimentary understanding of their country’s history (Gibson & Peck 2020). In most cases, the teaching of history remains unchanged and relies on old, tired, and outmoded methodoligies. Barton and Levstik write:

One of us, in fact, has a daughter currently enrolled in eighth grade U.S. history, and she analyzes exactly as many primary sources, reads exactly as many works of historical literature, takes part in exactly as many inquiry projects and simulations, and considers exactly as many alternative historical perspectives as her father did nearly 30 years ago: zero. We wish this were an isolated example, but we know that it isn’t. (Barton & Levstik, 2004, p. 3)

how do tensions in this work these lead to a disruption of settler-colonial narratives about Canada’s past? The tensions are so interesting. Historical Thinking Concepts remain the accepted methodology, but there are questions – how many teachers actually use this in their classrooms? As a more scientific approach to the study of history – what qualitative features of our narrative are sidelined? We live in a society informed by the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we are also more and more a diverse, multicultural society, especially in our urban centers – how can one methodology address all of these challenges?

This is a very rich experience. There are so many interesting questions I want to work on, and I just love the experience of exercising my mind and working on my writing. I have one course to go and then I get to start preparing for my comprehensives. I want to get this done by the fall.

So, next – a little reading for the next few weeks:

New Possibilities for the Past: Shaping History Education in Canada – Penny Clark (Ed.)

Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts – Sam Wineburg

We Want to do More Than Survive – Bettina Love

History Education and the Construction of National Identities Carretero, Asensio, Rodriguez-Moneo (Eds.)

Beyond History for Historical Consciousness – Levesque and Croteau

Colonialism/Postcolonialism – Ania Loomba

Dangerous Games: The Uses and Abuses of History by Margaret MacMillan

This list comes from my profs and the research I have been doing. They are the foundation of the next step and I will be working through all this until the summer.

Next – I really need to figure out how to organize all this information. Some people are using Zotero, others NVivo some Dedoose. People speak with such authority about these programs, but I really need to do my own research and figure something that will work for me. In case I haven’t listed enough tools here are nine more.

What’s next?

I have to sort through the tangle of ideas to come up with questions for my comp question. Am I any closer to figuring this out?

And, finally another thing I have learned, it would be good to do this:

Song of the Day

References to texts mentioned

Barton, & Levstik, L. S. (2004). Teaching history for the common good. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781410610508

Clark. C.,(2011). New possibilities for the past shaping history education in Canada. UBC Press.

Gibson L., Peck C.L. (2020) More than a Methods Course: Teaching Preservice Teachers to Think Historically. In: Berg C., Christou T. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of History and Social Studies Education. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi-org.proxy.bib.uottawa.ca/10.1007/978-3-030-37210-1_10

Lévesque S., & Croteau J.P., (2020). Beyond history for historical consciousness : students, narrative, and memory. University of Toronto Press.

Loomba, A., (2015). Colonialism/postcolonialism (Third edition.). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315751245

Love, B., (2019). We want to do more than survive : abolitionist teaching and the pursuit of educational freedom. Beacon Press.

MacMillan, M., (2010). Dangerous games : the uses and abuses of history (Modern Library paperback ed.). Modern Library.

Wineburg, S., (2001). Historical thinking and other unnatural acts : charting the future of teaching the past. Temple University.

Researcher’s Journal – Coming up with a question

This is my third journal entry. I think I am getting close to a question, so it makes sense to keep a record of this here. I am not sure what happens next, but this is my thinking and the resources I have collected so far.

A start.

Developing a National Identity through the teaching of history

What is history education for?

What are the elements of the master national narrative taught by Ontario teachers through the Grade 10 Canadian History curriculum? 

Who remains invisible in this narrative? (ethnic, transnational, diasporic, and Indigenous—)

How do Ontario teachers develop students’ national identities through the teaching of Grade 10 Canadian History?

What role does the teaching of Historical Thinking Concepts play in deconstructing these national narratives?

How do teacher candidates perceive their role in teaching the only required Canadian History course in Ontario high schools?

How is this master national narrative disrupted by some teachers?

Given that scholars agree that state-sponsored history classrooms are complicit in perpetuating the master national narrative templates, how is history education in Canada responding? (Anderson p.5)


The Stories Nations Tell: Sites of Pedagogy, Historical Consciousness, and National Narratives Stephanie Anderson

Introduction

What is the purpose of teaching history? What is our intention when we teach national narratives to students in our schools? Is it possible to explore our motivation when we develop a standard curriculum for the teaching of Canadian history? Barton and Levstik (2004) write that one of the considerations we must make when choosing what historical topics to teach is how this selection promotes the enhancement of the common good. One could ask – whose common good? Is there a common good or as Kendi (2019) writes there is no real mainstream world or school system. There are instead multiple real worlds and perspectives that need to be respected.

What are the stories that we tell? What goes missing? How has this statue changed over the years?

When it comes to teaching Grade 10 Canadian history – the only history course Ontario high schools students are required to take – how do we do this in a society that is made up of multiple world views? How do we engage students in such a way that the telling of the national narrative does this in a way that encompasses the multiple perspectives that make up our pluralistic society?

This is what I want to explore – What are the elements of the national narrative taught by Ontario teachers through the Grade 10 Canadian History curriculum? Who remains invisible in this narrative? How do Ontario teachers develop students’ national identities through the teaching of Grade 10 Canadian History? In this paper, I plan to do this by surveying the research on the teaching of national narratives to students. There are a variety of approaches to dealing with this challenge and various calls to change the way we teach a course that plays such an important role in developing students’ evolving sense of nationhood. In my conclusion, I will point out some practices that offer the most hope for ensuring that the telling of our national narrative(s) respects the diversity and multiple world views of our students.

Reading Themes and bibliography

These are the articles I can use for my bibliography. I will read all of this and much more. The section on teaching national narratives will grow, this is the latest category I have added. Each category is linked to a google doc. For this piece, the links are unactivated. If you have any ideas for resources please let me know!

Historic Agency and Consciousness

This is a complex subject that I don’t really understand, but I do have some good resources

10 articles

Methodology

15 articles

Teaching National Narratives

Depending where you are, who you are we tell different stories

8 articles

Teaching Historical Thinking

I don’t think teaching historical thinking skills is enough anymore

10 articles

History teaching methodology – teachers and teacher candidates

17 articles

Students’ ideas about history

To this category, I should add teacher candidates’ ideas about history – this would be interesting!

5 articles

Continuity and Change

1 article

Alternatives to historical thinking concepts

2 articles

Understanding the ethical dimension of historical interpretation

1 article

Cause and Consequence

2 articles

I think you can tell just by my collection of articles what areas interest me

Kent Monkman is a Canadian artist of Cree ancestry who works with a variety of mediums, including painting, film/video, performance, and installation. He has had solo exhibitions in numerous Canadian museums have including the Montreal Museum of Fine Art, the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art in Toronto, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, and the Art Gallery of Hamilton. 

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A Cosmopolitan Classroom and Mixed-Race Identity: Challenges and Proposals for Change

It is a fallacy to believe that any school system is equitable and fair. As state institutions, schools reflect the society in which they exist. The picture Karis Campion and Remi Joseph-Salisbury paint in Bringing Black Mixed-Race Pupils into Focus in British Schooling (2022) shines a harsh light on the challenges mixed-race students face in British schools. While this is a rapidly growing population, there is yet to be an in-depth study of their lives and the effect of schools on those lives (Campion & Joseph-Salisbury, 2022). Their research sets out to chronicle the experiences of mixed-race students as recorded in three separate collections of qualitative interviews from 2013 – 2018 with 71 mixed-race people.

Campion and Joseph-Salisbury (2022) focus on mixed-race students. There is a limited amount of research in relation to this growing population of students across the British schooling systems. As classrooms become more diverse, they call for a more nuanced view of mixed-race students that focuses on their needs and experiences. Mixed-race students are often racialized as Black students. However, as Campion and Joseph-Salisbury stress, their experiences of racism and prejudice differ and remain underexamined.

Their findings are troubling. For them, the British system continues to put Black/White mixed-race and Black students at a considerable disadvantage. Especially by the time Black and mixed-race students reach the secondary school system, they face overt racism and prejudice from three sources – their peers, their teachers, and the curriculum (Campion & Joseph-Salisbury, 2022).

Mixed-race students face prejudice from all sides. In some cases, Black/White mixed-race students are wrongly associated with a wider racial population that includes Asians and Pakistanis. This leads to incidents of name-calling that wound and further alienate mixed-race students. In other instances, they are set apart from Black students who have difficulty understanding they have a White and a Black parent leading them to be labelled in derogatory terms like ‘zebra’ (Campion & Joseph-Salisbury, 2022, p. 75).

The prejudice these students face also comes from their teachers who have little or no training or understanding on how to work with mixed-race or Black students. Comments like “in this country, we dot our i’s” are a particularly hurtful example of the racism exhibited by teachers (Campion & Joseph-Salisbury, 2022, p. 79).

The prejudice of their peers and teachers is degrading and demoralizing for these students, and such racism also extends to the curriculum. For me, this seems the worst – here racism is embedded and sustained by the state through the curriculum that all students are subjected to. The curriculum continues to celebrate a White “British” mindset that has little to do with mixed-race and Black students.

Consequently, Black and mixed-race students are invisible in the curriculum. They are not included in what is called “fundamental British values” (Campion & Joseph-Salisbury, 2022, p. 80). In an earlier article, Joseph-Salisbury (2017) focuses on the unique impact of the history curriculum in Black Mixed-race Male Experiences of the UK Secondary School Curriculum. The teaching of the standardized history curriculum, for him, brushes out any mention of mixed-race or Black people apart from the abolishment of slavery in 19th century England.

The combined effect of systemic racism in the curriculum, teacher indifference and ignorance combined with peer antipathy results in lower grades and higher levels of suspension and expulsion for Black and mixed-race students (Campion & Joseph-Salisbury, 2022). Lower teacher expectations and overall dissatisfaction with the curriculum paints a very glum picture of school life for these students. 

This research introduces the problems faced by mixed-race students. Campion and Joseph-Salisbury (2022) outline that there are differences in the experiences of Black and mixed-race students and more research needs to be done to get a complete picture of their lived experiences. Mixed-race students face prejudice from both White and Black students. Students also talk about the inability of their peers to fathom interracial relationships (Campion & Joseph-Salisbury, 2022). This reminds us of the ongoing systemic barriers; there is little written here that suggests an overall solution. Consequently, more qualitative research is needed.

As mentioned earlier, Joseph-Salisbury writes about the impact of a Eurocentric history curriculum, especially on Black and mixed-race students. In the British curriculum – (there is no differentiation offered here; Scottish? Welsh? English?) these students simply do not exist. What does this do to the student whose story is not told? How can they possibly combat the sense of inferiority that comes from not being in the picture? 

Joseph-Salisbury offers some ideas on curriculum modification by featuring mixed-race role models like Malcolm X and Bob Marley. However, I am not convinced that these insertions go beyond token offerings in a curriculum that ultimately supports White hegemony.

Moving away from the study of mixed-race role models, Joseph-Salisbury proposes a different solution. He refers to Black Saturday Schools as a way to supplement what students are missing in the regular curriculum (Joseph-Salisbury, 2017). This is one solution to the White hegemonic curriculum that all his interview subjects agree does not serve Black and mixed-race students. Consider, Jake, one of his participants:

As long as Black schools would take into account the needs of mixed kids, then yeah, I think that’s the future for us. Mainstream isn’t working. While responses and proposed interventions were varied among participants, the underlying dissatisfaction with the current curriculum was unanimous. (Joseph-Salisbury, 2017 p. 458)

Black Saturday Schools are part of the 50-year-old Black Supplementary School Movement in Great Britain.  This is one response to the racist nature of the regular British school system. In some ways, these schools sound similar to the language schools run by both English public-school boards here in Ottawa. Language schools in areas like Somerset West cater to Chinese and Vietnamese students offering instruction unavailable in local community schools. While the British schools have less support than their Canadian counterparts, there is real interest in studying this movement to better understand how these schools could be a solution to a problem that is plaguing British schools (Andrews, 2016). Black Supplementary Schools do offer the possibility of building resilience in Black and mixed-race youth. This additional training can support students in their efforts to succeed in a public schooling system that was and is designed for White communities only (2017).  Joseph-Salisbury & Andrews continue that Black Supplementary Schools must find ways to recognize Black mixed-race students within the curriculum.

When Black British children faced endemic racism, Saturday school was a necessity.

While the Black Saturday Schools offer an avenue for reform in Great Britain, Dunn, Spaulding, & Love, (2021) suggest that in the United States the time for reform is over, that the White, Eurocentric school system must be destroyed and worked over to better reflect the lives of Black Students. For example, they state:

Educational reform has never been enough; thus, now is the time for abolition. It’s imperative that we tear down the corrosive, racist and inhumane practices and policies to rebuild our educational system to value the multiplicity of our students and diverse communities. (p. 215)

Bettina Love, the founder of the Abolitionist Teaching Network in the United States, has written extensively on the need for a new type of teaching for Black, Brown, and Indigenous students. She advocates for a new pedagogy that teaches these students to thrive, not just survive (Wall, 2021).  Love and others are using the disruptions caused by Covid to propose a new system of education for racialized students. First, a critical consciousness needs to be developed so that students can recognize the racist nature of the current school system. Second, schools need to move away from indoctrination towards a system of critical analysis that empowers students. Finally, racist policies, practices and educators need to be called out and sidelined (Love et al, 2021). While this might seem much more radical than the Supplementary School Movement, the goals are similar. In both cases, there is a call for new institutions and new spaces that supplant White supremacist institutions that are incapable of providing an equitable education to racialized students.  Both decry the inability of their school systems to develop an inclusive, non-racist curriculum.

An excellent panel discussion on Abolitionist Teaching including Bettina Love

Kendi (2019) supports this desire for something different and more equitable in his research about Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the United States. For Kendi (2019) HBCUs reflect the reality in America where Black Americans “live in majority-Black neighborhoods, work in majority-Black sites of employment, organize in majority-Black associations” (p. 171). The establishment of new systems that empower racialized students recognizes that there is no real mainstream world or school system. There are instead multiple real worlds and perspectives that need to be respected.

Campion and Joseph-Salisbury have revealed a world that is unjust and inequitable. They offer important research into the lives of mixed-race students and how they sometimes intersect with the world of Black children. The story is nuanced and complex. While this book chapter presents a problem with vague solutions, it builds on research that calls out the negative impact of curriculum that marginalizes these students.


While Joseph-Salisbury and others propose the Supplementary Schools to enhance White schools that are resistant to change, others like Love and Kendi advocate instead for spaces apart from the White Eurocentric school culture. It is a powerful argument and a logical extension to Joseph-Salisbury and Campion’s reform-minded proposals. The world of the mixed-race student differs in important ways from that of Black students; the nature of racism and prejudice is unique and no study of the multiracial cosmopolitan classroom is complete without careful study of the challenges that make up the daily lives of this rapidly growing ethnic group.

A final word from Remi Joseph-Salisbury speaking about racial microaggressions in higher education

References

Andrews. (2016). The problem of political blackness: lessons from the Black Supplementary School Movement. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 39(11), 2060–2078. https://doi.org/10.1080/01419870.2015.1131314

Campion, K. and Joseph-Salisbury, R. (2021). Bringing Black Mixed-Race Pupils into Focus in British Schooling In Schecter, S. & James, C. (Eds.),

Critical Approaches Toward a Cosmopolitan Education (p. 69-85). Routledge.

Dunn, Chisholm, A., Spaulding, E., & Love, B. L. (2021). A Radical Doctrine: Abolitionist Education in Hard Times. Educational Studies (Ames), 57(3), 211–223. https://doi.org/10.1080/00131946.2021.1892684

Joseph-Salisbury, R. (2017). Black Mixed-race Male Experiences of the UK Secondary School Curriculum. The Journal of Negro Education, 86(4), 449–462. https://doi.org/10.7709/jnegroeducation.86.4.0449

Joseph-Salisbury, & Andrews, K. (2017). Locating black mixed-raced males in the black supplementary school movement. Race, Ethnicity and Education, 20(6), 752–765. https://doi.org/10.1080/13613324.2016.1248838

Kendi. (2019). How to be an Antiracist (First edition.). One World.

Love, & Muhammad, G. E. (2020). What do we have to lose: toward disruption, agitation, and abolition in Black education. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 33(7), 695–697. https://doi.org/10.1080/09518398.2020.1753257

Wall. (2021). Review of Love’s We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom. The Professional Educator, 45(1), 1–4. https://doi.org/10.47038/tpe.45.01.02

 

Researcher’s Journal – Looking for a question

It is time to get back to my researcher’s journal. The semester has been so busy with assignment work that there has been little time to think about anything else. Now after a great session with one of my profs – Dr. Nicholas Ng-A-Fook, I have some great material to work with!

First – I need a question. This is certainly a challenge, you would think this would be easy, but for my comps exam, I will need three questions and I write on two of these. The point here is to choose something that your committee will agree with and it is also important to come up with questions you can actually answer.

Where am I now?

So, I am starting with this – What would a poststructural or critical theory approach to examining grade 10 history teachers’ classroom practices look like?

This is probably the most challenging question that I am going to come up with. There needs to be something on epistemology or methodology so this is a theme to explore. But it is also grounded in reality – I am most interested in cataloguing how teachers are teaching the only mandatory history course in Ontario high schools. How is our national story being told in the classrooms of this province?

Two authors to look at – Petra Munro and Ania Loomba.

Thanks to VoicEd Radio and Dr. Ng-A-Fook there is an interview with Petra Munroe. This might help me with this first question.

Dr. Munro Hendry draws on curriculum studies, history, and philosophy to share her wisdom on the practice of history in relation to the COVID-19 Pandemic, curriculum history, and a history of education from a transatlantic perspective.

Nicholas Ng-A-Fook Twitter August 9, 2021
Fooknconversation Episode 29 on VoicEd Radio – this is where I will start

So far, I have a collection of reading themes where all the articles I have found so far have been organized – this is what it looks like now:

Historic Agency and Consciousness

(7 articles)

Lévesque, S., & Croteau, J.-P. (2020). Beyond history for historical consciousness: students, narrative, and memory. University of Toronto Press.

Teaching Historical Thinking

(9 articles)

Allender, Clark, A., & Parkes, R. J. (2020). Historical thinking for history teachers : a new approach to engaging students and developing historical consciousness. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

History teaching methodology – teachers and teacher candidates

(17 articles)

Use these 10 tips to make your lessons engaging and relevant to your students.

Students’ ideas about history

(5 articles)

Continuity and Change

(1 article)

from the Historical Thinking Project

Alternatives to historical thinking concepts

(2 articles)

Understanding the ethical dimension of historical interpretation

(1 article)

Cause and Consequence

(2 articles)

Cause & Consequence – from Historical Thinking Projects ppt.

Methodology

(1 article)

There is a bit of a pattern here. The methodology of teaching history and more specifically, the teaching of historical thinking concepts are the two themes that are of the greatest interest right now.

Posters are still available on the historical history concepts – you can order them here.

My next step will be to look for more articles from Canadian researchers like Heather McGregor, Lindsay Gibson, Carla Peck, Stéphane Levesque and Dwayne Donald.

What I need to work towards is a comprehensive knowledge of a particular topic. The topic revolves around the teaching of history in Ontario schools and the impact (if any) of historical thinking concepts. The question will be something like this – What are current history teaching methodologies used by history teachers and taught to teacher candidates? How are historical thinking concepts beginning to enter the school system?

This is probably still too unwieldy, but this is what I have right now. The next step – spend the next two weeks adding to the articles I have found and honing my question!

In all this I need to remember to keep this practical, make this something that is useful to teachers. For me this is essential. If I am eventually going to create something of value, it has to be situated in the classroom, it has to be grounded in reality.

Year One of Graduate Studies – Finding My Way

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

In the first year of a doctoral program, one of the most important things to learn is who your supervisor(s) are. I am very fortunate to have two people working with me – Dr. Marie-Hélène Brunet and Dr. Cynthia Wallace-Casey. Marie-Hélène was suggested to me by Dr. Lindsay Gibson, a professor at UBC. I had messaged Lindsay to get some ideas about starting a Ph.D. I don’t know Dr. Gibson all that well, but I have read some of his work and I take part in the Thinking Historically for Canada’s Future project where he is on the executive committee. He suggested I contact Marie-Hélène and ask her to be my supervisor. Here, I have to stop to note what an incredible academic community I am now a small part of. I had only spoken to Marie-Hélène over Zoom, but she agreed to be my supervisor and carefully coached me on my letter of intent for the University of Ottawa. Pretty wonderful.

Incredible what one conversation on Twitter started!

I love this graphic from the Historical Thinking Project!

This year, Marie-Hélène introduced me to Cynthia Wallace-Casey, an Adjunct Professor at the University of Ottawa; she is now supervising me with Marie-Hélène. Dr. Brunet started out as a high school and CEGEP teacher in Montreal and after four years went back to school to get her Master’s and Ph.D. She has been an Assistant Professor of social studies and history education at the Faculty of Education since 2018 and her current work focuses on understanding the historical consciousness of teachers and students. Her work enriches the literature on Historical Thinking Concepts (2014); she is currently a co-investigator on the Thinking Historically project (2020).

Dr. Wallace Casey

Dr. Wallace-Casey has worked in the field of public history and heritage in New Brunswick for the past twenty years. For her Masters, she studied the contributions made by women weavers in 19th century New Brunswick and how they contributed to the economy of Queen’s County (2011). Cynthia also has an incredible blog – Cynthia’s Heritage Education Blog – A View from the Picture Province… (2022) started in 2009 and updated on a regular basis. Her latest post includes a webinar (2021) outlining ways to bridge the gap between educators and museums to facilitate student learning.

Dr. Marie-Hélène Brunet

Both of my supervisors have a keen interest in Historical Thinking Concepts, as do I. This is a methodology for teaching history that focuses on key concepts like cause and consequence, historical significance, ethics and the development of a historical perspective (Seixas et. al., 2013). They both write about this methodology and I am looking forward to working with them; there is a great deal I can learn. Dr. Wallace-Casey writes about the development of the Canadian History Hall in Constructing Patriotism: How Canada’s History Hall has evolved over 50 years (2018). She has also written about how students can develop historic consciousness through work with adult volunteers at community museums (2017). Dr. Wallace-Casey has followed up on this inquiry with a recent piece that investigates student learning at the Museum of History and their development of ‘Big Ideas’ in Canadian history (2019).

Tracing the story of the History Museum is reveals the evolution of our historical consciousness

Dr. Brunet writes about historical consciousness and students’ and teachers’ sense of agency. In a collaborative piece with high school teacher Scott Pollock, they analyze the historical understanding of feminism held by different groups of female high school students. The surprising results of their research led them to examine why girls were hostile to feminist ideas. Their inquiry examines the students’ sense of historic consciousness and their personal theories of agency (p. 12). They conclude that in the mind of the students, the past has no connection to the present. While past struggles for the vote and legal recognition by women were understood by the students, these struggles have no present-day meaning. 

Both of my supervisors see this concept as the key to understanding how people understand history. Both also reference Jörn Rüsen who writes about historical consciousness:

The basic category for understanding historical learning is that of historical consciousness. Its widespread definition sounds as follows: a mental activity of interpreting the past for the sake of understanding the present and expecting the future. Thus it combines past, present and future along the line of an idea of what temporal change is about. (p. 523) 

Forming Historical Consciousness – Towards a Humanistic History Didactics. Antíteses. 5(10), 519–536.

After conducting separate studies, Brunet and Scott concluded that most of the students were operating at a level of historical consciousness that views history as a steady progression towards the good. The past battles for justice, are now over; there is no need for a feminist movement  (p. 18). This in turn leads to a false sense of agency where the individual believes the past has no impact on the rights and privileges they currently enjoy. 

The works of Drs. Wallace-Casey and Brunet are linked by the concept of historical consciousness. In Dr. Wallace-Casey’s research, she recounts a narrative describing the development of an inclusive Canadian consciousness through the slow evolution of the Canadian History Hall. In this piece, it is important to remember that the weaving of Canadian Indigenous stories into the main narrative only happened in 2017 (2018). 

Historical consciousness – a mental activity of interpreting the past for the sake of understanding the present and expecting the future

Both Drs. Wallace-Casey and Brunet agree that a sense of the past is something that must be developed over time. Both use the same categories of historical consciousness to situate the students and teachers with whom they work. Dr. Wallace-Casey sees a strong role for local museums in helping students to develop personal relevancy to the past – something that was lacking in the high school students in Dr. Brunet’s study.

Dr. Brunet also examines ways to develop a greater sense of historical consciousness through teacher-candidate workshops that examine how traditional male-dominated narratives are still told in our current textbooks (Brunet & Demers, 2018). By analyzing the stories that are missing from our current historical narrative. Dr. Brunet attempts to deconstruct the traditional narratives still held by new teachers. In doing so, there is a chance that these educators will be able to develop new narratives in their classrooms. In this sense, both of my supervisors are examining how we perceive our stories and what can be done to develop a more inclusive look at the past.

Author’s Note: This video explains a lot about Dr. Brunet’s work

a great interview with Dr. Samantha Cutrara and Dr. Brunet – all about agency, teaching history in meaningful ways and the progress narrative. Part of the series Pandemic Pedagogies: Imagining a New We

Referenceswhat I read to put this together. Yet another challenge, figuring our APA!

Brunet, M., Demers, S., (2018). Deconstructing the history textbook to (re)construct more accurate knowledge: account of practice in initial and continuing teacher training. Erudit. 31(1), 123-140 https://www.erudit.org/fr/revues/rf/2018-v31-n1-rf03912/1050657ar/

Cutrara, S. (May 20, 2020) In conversation with Dr. Marie-Hélène Brunet {Pandemic Pedagogy convo 21} Imagining a New ‘We’. [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJVgrBH3g9s

Cynthia’s Heritage Education Blog – A View from the Picture Province (2022) http://nbheritage.blogspot.com/

Pollock, S., Brune, M., (2018). “When it became equal”: How Historical Consciousness and Theories of Agency Can Explain Female Students’ Conceptions of Feminism. 

Canadian Social Studies, (50,1), 11-24.

(Rüsen. P., 2012). Forming Historical Consciousness – Towards a Humanistic History Didactics. Antíteses. 5(10), 519–536. https://doi.org/10.5433/1984-3356.2012v5n10p519

Seixas, P., Morton, T., Colyer, J., & Fornazzari, S. (2013). The Big Six: Historical Thinking Concepts Toronto: Nelson Education.

The Historical Thinking Project (2014) https://historicalthinking.ca/about-historical-thinking-project

The History Education Network (2011)

http://thenhier.ca/en/content/cynthia-wallace-casey.html

Thinking Historically for Canada’s Future. (2020) https://thinking-historically.ca/

Wallace-Casey, C.  (2017). I like to take everything and put it in my own words: Historical Consciousness, Historical Thinking, and Learning with Community History Museums. Canadian Journal of Education, 40(1), 1–28.

Wallace-Casey, C. (2018). Constructing Patriotism: How Canada’s History Hall has evolved over 50 years. History Education Research Journal. 15(2), 292–307. https://doi.org/10.18546/HERJ.15.2.10

Wallace-Casey, C. (January 20, 2021). Museum Collections and N.B. Social Studies: Bridging the Two. Association Heritage New Brunswick

https://amnb.adobeconnect.com/p2x51jb1n1g1/

Wallace-Casey, C. (2019). ‘I want to Remember’: Student Narratives and Canada’s History Hall, Yearbook of the International Society of History Didactics. (40), 181-199. https://jhec.wochenschau-verlag.de/back-issues/#40

When researching the lives of people

When I think about qualitative research, I remember a group of Salvadoran teachers sitting on the floor talking about the challenges of teaching in a rural setting. They talk about their frustrations with the younger ones who have never lived in a time of war and all the loss and violence that was so much a part of their lives. They talk about crossing the Sumpul River to get away from the soldiers and their makeshift classrooms in the forest where they went to school.

Sumpul River Massacre – “there were so many vultures picking at the bodies in the water that it looked like a black carpet,”

I haven’t thought about these stories for a long time, but I am thinking about them now. The memories have been stirred up by the reading I have been doing on qualitative inquiry and what it means to use a narrative approach to conduct research. For me, the only meaningful study of the lives of these people would be through a rigorous qualitative study. Using the criteria that exists to conduct qualitative research we could learn a great deal from these people’s stories.

This was not what I was imagining when I started my courses in the fall. Now I am thinking about John Creswell and what he says about listening to the participant in the study and working to understand the lived experience of those you are talking to Creswell (2015).

I am also thinking back to the first article I read, Tracy’s ‘Big-Tent’ criteria for excellent qualitative inquiry (Tracy, 2010). The first criteria – Worthy topic –  really struck me and this is challenging me to think in a different way about my own research.

Studies of worth excite interest and go places that are unexpected (Tracy, 2010, p. 841). That is what I want to do and this is certainly what good qualitative research should do. I have read and reread Samantha Cutrara’s book Transforming the Canadian History Classroom: Imaging a New We (Cutrara, 2020) and I now understand why this book is having such an influence on me. In my opinion, this is excellent qualitative research. It tells the story of four classrooms where the author attempted to turn conventional history teaching on its head.

Rather than teach the standard curriculum revolving around the two founding peoples, Cutrara allowed students, mainly from urban racialized schools in Toronto, to develop their own narratives. She calls this methodology Historic Space, and it focuses on deconstructing the historical narratives that are meaningless to the students she is working with (Cutrara, 2020, p. 168). The richness or rigour of her research comes from the stories she tells of her conversations with different students and also the pushback she experiences from some of the teachers she works with.

Cutrara is a very reflexive writer who has taken the time to write about the anger and frustration she encountered while doing this work. She wrote this book because after four years, she felt compelled to honour the voices of the students she worked with and to ensure that their voices were heard (Cutrara, 2020 p. ix.).

The research really resonates with me, not just because at one point I was a history teacher, but because she is telling the stories of the voiceless, another key component that Tracy identifies as good qualitative research (Tracy, p. 844). 

Tracy also writes that good qualitative research should make a significant contribution. I do need to read more about how Cutrara’s arguments are being received. She goes against conventional thought on the use of historical thinking concepts in the classroom so while I consider this excellent qualitative research there may not be many academics who share my belief.

Returning to the classroom in El Salvador, I can imagine a researcher using Tracy’s model and Cutrara’s story-telling ability to get at the heart of good qualitative research. What an exciting challenge to bring such important stories into the light.

References

Creswell., J. (2015). Doing qualitative research [Video]. In SAGE Research Methods Video https://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781506363448

Cutrara, S. (2020)Transforming the Canadian History Classroom: Imagining a New We. UBC Press.

Tracy, S. J. (2010). Qualitative Quality: Eight “Big Tent” Criteria for Excellent Qualitative Research. Qualitative Inquiry 16(10) 837-851. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077800410383121

My Researcher’s Journal – an introduction

This is a different type of post, it may go on for years.

One thing I have been charged to do is to write every day. One of the writing challenges is to start a researcher’s journal. Everything in a Ph.D. program focuses on the end goal, the completion of a dissertation. There are many layers to this process, I am unpeeling one of them here.

I am very grateful for the writing prompts I have been getting over the past two weeks. My writing had dried up and while I love to write, I really did not see much to write about. Now I have a focus and I need to reserve time every day for writing.

I have two supervisors which is wonderful. I met with both of them last week to start work on this journey. Very slowly I think, I will develop some ideas on what I should focus on in my research.

What do I know so far?

I got into all of this because of historical thinking concepts. I love the idea that as teachers our first task is to help our students to think.

While much has been written over the past 20 years, some areas like the ethical dimension have received less attention. This gives me a clue on where I can start.

One of my advisors told me to read everything by Peter Seixas, the preeminent writer on historical thinking concepts in Canada. So, I need to go back and follow the train of his writing for the past 20 years. I can’t see how I am going to truly understand the philosophy and epistemology behind historical thinking without this deep dive.

Peter Seixas

As I learn new things and read more articles, I will have to find a system for keeping a record of all this. Over the summer I used this chart along with summary notes to start documenting the articles I am reading. The chart is a good way to clarify my thinking so I will start using this again with some modifications.

content or topic with matching
photo article on gallery walk – pedagogy,
methodology, epistemology
text – big ideas/concepts
  ← relates to my thesis?
← applications for own teaching/inspirations
I have added epistemology and Methodology to the chart, also changed other resources to relates to my thesis
I have to look at articles critically – what is the epistemology, the methodology? the method?

The chart will continue to change and eventually there will be hundreds of articles, but putting down something here helps me to commit.

Apart from historical thinking, I am really interested in how we choose the stories we are going to tell our students and how this changes over time. This week, I am going to work on Reverberating Echoes: Challenging Teacher Candidates to Tell and Learn From Entwined Narrations of Canadian History (2011)
by Kent Den Heyer and Laurence Abbott. Narrative is something I am really interested in, so this is another clue.

I am learning about qualitative research, and this is something I want to understand better. There is more of a story-telling approach in qualitative research and this immediately appeals to me. I am also learning about oral history which is fascinating.

Can I combine oral history with qualitative research?

I also have to work on my academic writing and how to do citations and references properly. The only way to do this is to keep writing and listen carefully to all the advice I get.

These are early days, so my journal is a collection of random ideas. I have decided to put this out on my regular blog so that I can keep this process visible. I also hope that along the way I will get some sage advice that might help.

This is the introduction, the next post will be a chapter 1.

Searching for an idea – whose stories need to be told? 

I am putting my ideas out there now because I want to make my academic journey as transparent as I can over the next four years. I am trying to get into the discipline of writing every day, my next post will probably be the start of a research journal that I need to keep over the length of my Ph.D. I am hoping some people will find this interesting and that I will get some helpful feedback as well! Who knows maybe I will get on Doug Peterson’s show on VoicEd Radio.

I am looking forward to doing this writing every week. I love to write, but academic writing and APA ( a style guide for writing) are new to me. When I post my writing now, I will adapt it so some of the course-specific material is omitted. This post is part introduction, a search for a research topic and my reactions to reading bell hooks.

I did my B.A. at Queen’s University, my M.A. at York University and my B.Ed at the University of Toronto. In between my Masters and Education degree I took a break from studies to work for Katimavik, a national work experience for Canadian youth. I grew in this program and I wanted to find more ways to work in this non-traditional learning environment.

I taught for 31 years in several positions. None were as interesting as working in Katimavik, but after seven years in a traditional classroom, I had the opportunity to work in an alternate classroom at my school. My students didn’t fit into the regular stream. Some had mental health issues, some were dealing with addiction and some simply didn’t fit in. In some ways, I was like many of them. I felt comfortable in this learning environment, and it was a unique privilege to help them through some of the life crises they experienced while in our classroom.

I find now as I take my graduate classes that my mind is growing again. No one really grows when they are comfortable, and it is a relief to again be in that zone. Now I am searching –  what can I write about that will make a difference for people?  Last night in the middle of our methodology class, an idea came to me. Maybe I need a bolder focus. Is there a way I could study a different education system outside of the Canadian context?

Years ago, I spent a good deal of time talking to educators in a northern village in El Salvador. The educators in this town all grew up during the war and were survivors of massacres that took place in their region. We talked about these experiences and it seemed as if they were back in the river fleeing for their lives. They are teachers because they want something better for their children, they are trying to build a society out of the chaos of war. It occurs to me that going back to the village do some form of qualitative research could be what I am looking for. What would it be like to tell their stories? Has anyone tried to do this?

 talking to teachers in San Jos las Flores

I love the bell hooks book. There is so much that speaks to me. I am thinking of the discipline and passion that went into her writing. She writes a great deal about anger and loss, but I think her real message is love and understanding. It is interesting to watch her interview and what she says about speaking freely and teaching courage (Freedom Forum, 2016). The book was dark in many ways and she seemed to lack the confidence to write and publish, but here in this interview I can see how she developed her dissenting voice that welcomes conflict as a normal part of our lives.

It seems like a whole new generation of writers has been influenced by her power and honesty. We do a book study with our year 2 students on How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. Kendi mentions bell hooks in his book, she was one of the writers he turned to as he worked to overturn his own gender and queer racism (Kendi, 2019, p.198-199). Kendi uses a style that reminds me of bell hooks. In each of his chapters, he gives us a taste of his own story. He uses these stories to write about gender, colour, power and what it means to be an antiracist. This book has a great influence on our students, but would this have been possible without the truth-telling of bell hooks?

this is not long and it is a wonderful interview!