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

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!

Journey to El Salvador for Teacher Candidates

Next week, we will be presenting this trip as a volunteer opportunity for University of Ottawa Teacher Candidates. I think this is a wonderful opportunity for new teachers – what a wonderful way to start your career with three weeks learning about the power of education in El Salvador.

So, here is the full trip we are proposing for students:

 

Center for Exchange and Solidarity – CIS and the Center for Global Engagement, University of Ottawa Education Cultural Exchange program in El Salvador April 9 – 26, 2018.

 

Proposed Objectives:

  •    Learn about the history of the El Salvador, and the root causes of war, migration and violence.
  •    Exchange ideas about the educational system and teaching methodology in El Salvador and Canada with Salvadoran teachers and students of education.
  •    Share specific knowledge through workshops, making a video or other skills part participants may have (ex. art, marketing, computers, English,  gender, human rights, environment, culture of peace, communication, soccer, softball, etc.)
  •    Salvadoran share specific testimonies of overcoming violence, women’s empowerment, how education and formation has impacted their lives and community.
  •    Promote a culture of solidarity, of mutual support and global connections for social and economic justice.

Ideas for possible Activities.

The final program will be based on the number of students participating, the areas of particular interest, community needs and resources available:

  •    General orientation, culture, security, health, history of the CIS.
  •    Testimony – History of the War and El Salvador.
  •    Hike ecological forest which was a guerrilla encampment during the war in Cinquera Cabañas.  Learn about History and the Environment.
  •    Visit site of Guadalupe and Tenango massacre in the Department of Cuscatlán-Cabañas and learn how survivors have overcome
  •    Visit public school and exchange with students and teachers.
  •    Meet with CIS promoters in charge of formation of CIS scholarship program and their use of popular education in the communities.
  •    Exchange with CIS scholarship students studying education
  •    Visit historical sites in San Salvador:  The home of Msgr Oscar Romero’s home and the chapel where he gave his life
  •    Visit the Jesuit University and site where 6 Priests and 2 women workers were massacred in 1989.  
  •    Stay in rural community:   visit homes, visit the school, do some exchanges with community and /or school teachers; meet with women’s businesses, make tortillas.
  •    Stay in Urban Community:   Meet with teachers about special challenges of gangs in schools; understand the displacement of communities during the war and earthquakes and shanty town settlements; exchange with CIS art therapy course, and human rights committee.
  •    Workshops:  Participants will be asked to develop a workshop  or a series of workshops on one theme to share in the community depending on their skill set and interest – Some examples, that the community request  include education methodology,  different arts, marketing, computers, English,  gender, human rights, environment, culture of peace, communication, environment.
  •    Indigo – history, culture, cultivation and processing of dye and dying clothes by women’s groups.
  •    Exchange with CIS English and Spanish Teachers and popular education and language instruction.
  •    Spanish classes are available online or at CIS in El Salvador. www.cis-elsalvador.org.   It can also be worked into the program if there is an interest, but will limit time to carry out other activities listed above.

Budget:

Travel / air travel:   $1,135 CDN (Pardo Travel Ottawa)

CIS fee (food, lodging, program coordination, translator and guide, in-country transportation, honorarium, park or museum entrance fees):  $1,800 U.S. / per person.

Timeline:

  •    Participants confirmed by November.
  •    Payment in full for air travel $1,135 CDN – November
  •    Application fee $200 U.S. (non-refundable) November.
  •    Balance – $1,600 U.S. payment due:   March 1st.
  •    Program:  April 9 – 26, 2018

 

Center for Exchange and Solidarity – CIS and the Center for Global Engagement, University of Ottawa Education Cultural Exchange program in El Salvador April 9 – 26, 2018.

APPLICATION FORM:

PLEASE E-MAIL TO CIS:  delegaciones@cis-elsalvador.org so we can better organize your visit.

Name (full legal as in passport: ______________________________________________________

Name you like to be called by: ______________________________________________________

Gender: _________________________________________________________

Address___________________________________________________

Province___________________________________________________

Postal Code/Country__________________________________________

Telephone________________________________________________________________________

E-mail___________________________________________________

 

Date of Birth / age: _________________________________________________________

Passport Country and Number: _______________________________________________________

Profession/undergrad and graduate area of studies: _____________________________________

 

Spanish Level (circle one)   ZERO — BEGINNER—INTERMEDIATE—- ADVANCED— FLUENT

 

Have you been to El Salvador before? _____________________________

 

(If yes) When? What type of program _______________________________________________

Special Dietary needs:  (vegan, vegetarian, diabetic, allergies, lactose intolerance, gluten intolerance; eat everything) _____________________________

 

Special health conditions we should be aware of? _______________________________________

 

Why do you want to participate in this program?

 

What are your priorities for the activities you would like to see included during the exchange program?

 

Is there any type of workshop or project you would like to prepare to share in El Salvador?  Explain brief concept, who would be the ideal audience, ideal number of participants (e.g.  Women, teachers, education students, youth, kids), and what type of resources if any would be required to carry out said workshop.  (It could also include the making of a video, collect testimonies of certain sector and not necessarily a workshop)

Emergency Contact Information:  Name, phone number, e-mail, Messenger or other ways to contact in a timely manner:

Opening the Doors of Teacher Education – Learning in the Global South

I really enjoy working with the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa. They are open to all sorts of new ideas and are always looking for opportunities to deepen the learning experience of their students.

This year, we are going to offer a unique volunteer opportunity for teacher candidates who will be completing their second year at the Faculty of Education.

All students have to complete a three-week volunteer placement before they finish their program. It is up to them to decide what they will do for their placement and students are offered a variety of opportunities to consider at the beginning of their second year.

This year we are offering students a placement in El Salvador where they will be able to learn something about what it is like to work as an educator  in the Global South. We have done these kinds of trips in the past for teachers, but what a wonderful opportunity to take part in a trip like this as part of the formative teacher education experience.

We can learn a great deal by talking to teachers in other countries. While the circumstances of teachers in El Salvador can be drastically different from what teachers experience in Canada, there are remarkable similarities as well. Teachers in both countries have to surmount the challenges of working in low-income areas and we all aspire to offer a holistic education for our students to prepare them for the world they will live in.

Having an opportunity to talk with teachers and students from the Global South can add a rich element to the teacher training we provide our teacher candidates with. Learning what it is like to live and struggle in a poor Southern country can add valuable life experience for teacher candidates preparing for a very challenging career.

We will be working with CIS –  Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad (Center for Exchange and Solidarity) in El Salvador.

CIS aims to strengthen people-to-people solidarity and contribute to the construction of a new El Salvador. They have a great deal of experience working with delegations from the United States and Canada. They have put together a program that will be presented to students in September. Here are some of the highlights:

Proposed Objectives:

  •    Learn about the history of the El Salvador, and the root causes of war, migration and violence.
  •    Exchange ideas about the educational system and teaching methodology in El Salvador and Canada with Salvadoran teachers and students of education.
  •    Promote a culture of solidarity, of mutual support and global connections for social and economic justice.

Possible activities:

  •    Testimony – History of the War and El Salvador.
  •    Hike ecological forest which was a guerrilla encampment during the war in Cinquera Cabañas.  Learn about History and the Environment.

Church in Cinquera, El Salvador

  •    Visit site of Guadalupe and Tenango massacre in the Department of Cuscatlán-Cabañas and learn how survivors have overcome
  •    Visit public school and exchange with students and teachers
  •    Exchange with CIS scholarship students studying education
  •    Visit historical sites in San Salvador:  The home of  Oscar Romero’s home and the chapel where he gave his life

view of the chapel where Oscar Romero was killed

 

  •    Visit the Jesuit University and site where 6 Priests and 2 women workers were massacred in 1989.
  •    Stay in a rural community:   visit homes, visit a school, do some exchanges with the community and /or school teachers; meet with women’s businesses, make tortillas.
  •    Stay in Urban Community:   Meet with teachers about special challenges of gangs in schools; understand the displacement of communities during the war and earthquakes and shanty town settlements; exchange with CIS art therapy course, and human rights committee.
  •    Workshops:  Participants will be asked to develop a workshop  or a series of workshops on one theme to share in the community depending on their skill set and interest – Some examples, that the community request  include education methodology,  different arts, marketing, computers, English,  gender, human rights, environment, culture of peace, communication, environment.
  •    Indigo – history, culture, cultivation and processing of dye and dying clothes by women’s groups.

Salvadorian Enterprises for Women collective in Suchitoto (an hour from San Salvador) where they raise, dye and make clothes from indigo.

  •    Exchange with CIS English and Spanish Teachers and popular education and language instruction.
  •    Spanish classes are available online or at CIS in El Salvador. www.cis-elsalvador.org.

For the sake of brevity, I have only included some of the objectives and activities that could be included as part of the three-week program.

This is a very rich and varied schedule and I know that teacher candidates taking part in this trip will learn lots.

Now it is really up to the students to decide if they will make this their volunteer option for 2018. I hope some of them do, it promises to be a rich learning experience.

with students from the school in San Jose las Flores

 

 

The Principal as Activist

A few days ago, I was part of a presentation in front of the Ottawa Community Housing Foundation. We were talking about the work that we had done to raise money for a community organization called Rec Link by climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. We talked about the importance of developing community assets to assist schools in high poverty areas. Rec-LINK was one of these important community assets that continue to be a great help at my last school.

One board member asked if it was normal for principals to develop strong links with community agencies that make the lives of families in the community richer. I had to say that, no this is not common. I do know some great principals who have linked their school to community agencies, but unfortunately, in my opinion, this is rare.

We are not trained to develop our community assets and this made me reflect on why I had taken this approach at my last school.

I think a great deal has to do with what I have learned from a visionary principal, Nelson Rutilio Cartagena Orellana who administers an elementary school in San Jose las Flores in El Salvador.

Nelson has been principal and a prominent member of the community of San Jose las Flores for many years. Nelson is everywhere in the community. He sits on local and regional anti-mining committees, he is always looking for ways enrich his school community through the development of projects that include an extensive garden and livestock growing project, a breakfast program for all students and a new computer lab for the school. He does much of this through the partnerships he has encouraged with schools and communities in Canada, Spain and I am sure many other countries.

Nelson was actually voted principal by the teachers of his school – can you imagine if we did the same thing here?

Nelson grew up in and around San Jose las Flores and was a young victim of the Sumpul River Massacre.  His brother died trying to cross the river and Nelson still wonders what he would be like if he was alive today.

A depiction of the Sumpul River Massacre. It is estimated that over 600 people, mainly women, and children were killed trying to cross the river from El Salvador to Honduras.

Nelson’s commitment to his school and community is very special. He knows that the children at the school have the potential to prosper in the future – one no longer clouded by war and oppression.

To be an educator in San Jose las Flores means that you are committed to bringing about social change for the children of the community and that you must use every asset you can find to make sure they have a bright future.

Children getting a mid-morning meal at the school – this program is funded by one of the many school partners.

While our challenges in Canada are nothing like those in El Salvador, there is an important message to be learned here. It is simply not enough to administer your own school and shut the community out. The problems that exist in disadvantaged communities in Canadian cities are too great to be managed by the school alone. Schools must develop stronger ties to local community agencies like Rec-LINK in order to provide the well-rounded education our children need to prosper.

This may be done at some schools, but if it does it is because of one or two inspired leaders like Nelson – it certainly is not common. The need for better integration between school and community seems to be poorly understood here and this needs to change.

A principal needs to be an activist. If they are not comfortable with that role, probably best to move on to a less challenging school.

The elementary school in San Jose las Flores

 

Do we see poverty in our schools?

For many years, I took groups of teachers and students down to the Dominican Republic, Mexico and El Salvador.  There is no question that the poverty down there is grinding and the injustice is at times overwhelming.

img_5597
Kindergarten class in El Salvador

These trips were very meaningful and I was fully committed to sustaining partnerships with the communities we came into contact with, especially in El Salvador.

Many of you may already see where this is going.  What about the poverty in your own backyard? What about the terrible poverty in Canadian indigenous communities?

I never really had a good answer to these questions.  I guess I thought that I was doing my part.

Now, I don’t see this as good enough.  I have been very fortunate to work in a high poverty section of our city – for me this is a first.  I am ashamed to say that I really didn’t know the extent of the poverty in these communities in our own very wealthy city.

We routinely buy boots for our kids.  We support children through breakfast and lunch programs, we subsidize a whole variety of lunchtime programs so that our kids get the same educational opportunities as others in better off neighbourhoods.  We are constantly applying for grants for recreational equipment, technology and improvements to our yard.

img_2471
Where do we get help? From wonderful community orientated businesses like Starr Gymnastics

I am not writing this to make us look virtuous, this is simply some of the things you need to do when you live in a poor neighbourhood.  Even in a rich city.

Sometimes you have to go cap in hand to well off schools to get help, especially at Christmas.  I don’t like doing this, but it is important to help families especially at Christmas.

This year, we were turned down by one of the well off schools in our board.  This same school routinely raises thousands of dollars for schools in Southern countries.

Of course, this is their choice, but what has happened to our priorities?  How have we lost sight of the poverty of our neighbours?

I have no answers, only to say we still have a long way to go in the journey from charity to true social justice, especially in our own backyard.

As for our school community, we will do just fine.