Table Of Content
- About the author(s)/editor(s)
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- Table of Contents
- Foreword: Not Just as We Please, or by Choice: A Meditation on What It Means to Make a Difference
- Chapter One: Introduction
- Chapter Two: We Went Once Around the Sun: Some Notes on the Origins and Organization of This Book
- Chapter Three: From What Does Ethical Relationality Flow? An Indian Act in Three Artifacts
- Chapter Four: Successful Assimilation
- Chapter Five: A Pedagogy of Panic
- Chapter Six: A Better Place
- Chapter Seven: All Beings Are Your Ancestors: A Bear Sutra on Ecology, Buddhism and Pedagogy (1997)
- Chapter Eight: Relearning Freedom: Advice to a New Teacher
- Chapter Nine: Matches
- Chapter Ten: A Modern Hunting Tradition
- Chapter Eleven: “You Need Accuracy”: An Appreciation of a “Modern Hunting Tradition”
- Chapter Twelve: Advice to New Teachers
- Chapter Thirteen: Beckoning
- Chapter Fourteen: Remembering Mr. Routhier
- Chapter Fifteen: Teaching Everything
- Chapter Sixteen: Blossom Everlasting: A Meditation
- Chapter Seventeen: Timed Beings
- Chapter Eighteen: In My Timid Voice
- Chapter Nineteen: My Brother
- Chapter Twenty: Advice to a New Teacher
- Chapter Twenty-One: Meditations on Contemplative Pedagogy as Sanctuary
- Chapter Twenty-Two: Thoughts and Aspirations for a New Teacher
- Chapter Twenty-Three: Dear New Teacher
- Chapter Twenty-Four: Henry
- Chapter Twenty-Five: A Little Uprising
- Chapter Twenty-Six: (Here Is) Where You Are Supposed to Be
- Chapter Twenty-Seven: River Otters and Such
- Chapter Twenty-Eight: My Teacher Supply List
- Chapter Twenty-Nine: Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome
- Chapter Thirty: Echolocations
- Chapter Thirty-One: Chasing Calmness
- Chapter Thirty-Two: Tortuga
- Chapter Thirty-Three: Conversation
- Chapter Thirty-Four: Dear New Teacher
- Chapter Thirty-Five: Nani
- Chapter Thirty-Six: On Witches and Kites
- Chapter Thirty-Seven: It Is All Love
- Chapter Thirty-Eight: The Typewriter
- Chapter Thirty-Nine: Curriculum Artifact: Guided Reading Table
- Chapter Forty: New Stories and Roles
- Chapter Forty-One: Too Young for an Identity Crisis
- Chapter Forty-Two: From Darkness to Light: Observations From Inside the Linoleum Cavern
- Chapter Forty-Three: Hypocrite
- Chapter Forty-Four: Two Young Fish
- Chapter Forty-Five: Whisking Away the Table
- Chapter Forty-Six: Spontaneous Learning
- Chapter Forty-Seven: “I Love the Terror in a Mother’s Heart”
- Chapter Forty-Eight: Dear Adam’s Teacher
- Chapter Forty-Nine: Remembrances of the Land and Rocks in My Pocket
- Chapter Fifty: Fish Bones in the Trees
- Chapter Fifty-One: Let’s Take a Journey
- Chapter Fifty-Two: Old Dog, Same Trick
- Chapter Fifty-Three: Thoughts on Being Neither Finished nor Unfinished
- Chapter Fifty-Four: There Is Only This Farm
- Chapter Fifty-Five: How to Love Black Snow
- Chapter Fifty-Six: Bee & Nothingness
- Chapter Fifty-Seven: Turning In/wards
- Chapter Fifty-Eight: Radiant Beings
- Chapter Fifty-Nine: Additional Thoughts on the Terror in a Mother’s Heart: An Allegorical/Pedagogical Speculation on the Economies of Knowledge
- Chapter Sixty: Josh
- Chapter Sixty-One: Curriculum Theorizing
- Chapter Sixty-Two: Interview With the Gym Hall Water Fountain
- Chapter Sixty-Three: Beyond the Outfield Fence
- Chapter Sixty-Four: American Dippers and Alberta Winter Strawberries
- Chapter Sixty-Five: Advice to a New Teacher
- Chapter Sixty-Six: Girls, Go Close the Doors!
- Chapter Sixty-Seven: So Many Voices
- Chapter Sixty-Eight: An Ode to Xmas Present
- Chapter Sixty-Nine: Dear Cohort
- Chapter Seventy: An Address
- Chapter Seventy-One: Becoming Uncongealed
- Chapter Seventy-Two: Ode to My Rabbit Teacher
- Chapter Seventy-Three: School Storage Bags: Not as Innocent as They Seem
- Chapter Seventy-Four: Teaching, Practice, Wisdom: An Invitation to the Banff Centre
- Chapter Seventy-Five: “The Path and the Goal”
- List of Contributors
- Series index
Insofar as one might have a historical materialist view of the human condition, and perhaps even if one doesn’t, three points from Karl Marx (1852/1978) still bear consideration:
[People] make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly found, given and transmitted from the past. (p. 595)
In a way, the words serve as a warning. When it comes to meaningful and lasting personal, social, political or cultural change, don’t indulge in any fantasies about pure autonomy or perfectly free action, because the real work to be done always entails dealing precisely with what one has been dealt, what one has received, be it from family, tribe, language or nation. Why? Because “[the] tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living” (p. 595), and unless one penetrates the veils of one’s receipts, reproduction of the old life in new forms is the inevitable result. Marx took as his example the so-called French Revolution of Napoleon Bonaparte when land and property were divested from the monarchy, with its feudal social and political arrangements, and taken over by a new bourgeois class (> O.Fr. borgois, town dweller c.f. peasant) made up of new property owners, financiers, industrialists, the army, universities, churches, courts and the press, all of whom had become within one generation under Napoleon’s nephew Louis the chief operatives of the new national republican state. In Marx’s view, in a single generation the state had become a latent embodiment of fascism, since for most people (peasants, in the French case) “the duties of feudal obligation are replaced ← xv | xvi → by the mortgage,” (p. 597) with people forced to sell themselves as labour to service their debts to the state. The new state was so confident of its revolutionary merit that it established a new calendar to mark the beginning of a new epoch starting on November 9, 1799, when Napoleon first seized power. November is the month of fog (Fr. brumaire), so Marx titled his essay from which the above quotes are taken as “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Napoleon Bonaparte.” Unfortunately, this history is all but forgotten today, which of course was precisely Marx’s point: forget the past, or better, just pick and choose what you like about it, and you’ll simply repeat it with all of its blindnesses and forms of foolishness. Napoleon saw himself as a new Caesar, just as George W. Bush conceived the war on terror as a Crusade.
Another insight from Marx may be relevant here, one articulated in the book Grundrisse, a German word meaning “comprehensive outline,” in this case Marx’s Outline of the Critique of Political Economy, not published until 1939. It is estimated that originally only three or four copies of this book were ever made public in the West, and the work was not translated into English until 1973. Such is the fear in the West of a comprehensive critique of its own operating assumptions. In Grundrisse, Marx (1858/1993) described his fundamental method of analysis as involving an “ascent from the abstract to the concrete.” There is something lovely in the image this phrase evokes, of a kind of clawing one’s way up from the depths underneath the concrete, material world to eventually see that world as it actually is in all of its historical and existential depth through the traces that have brought it into being. But why “from the abstract”? Here Marx is employing the dialectical method of one of his earlier philosophical compatriots, G. F. Hegel, to note how our very ideas and abstractions of the world are created through the world itself. Ideas never exist in a vacuum, or on their own, so that people can “bounce ideas around” in a game of intellectual chess. Instead, when we take up our ideas, expressed primarily in language, as objects of contemplation we can begin to see the concrete world out of which they have arisen. Similarly, when we contemplate the material, concrete world right in front of us we can begin to see into the very shape and character of our intellects, of how it is we think about the world in the ways that we do. All this, in turn, can provide insight into the real work that needs to be done in order to live more freely and openly, no longer chained to the dead weights that have constructed us without our being aware of it. It is in this sense that the basic human project becomes a spiritual endeavor, one of emancipation from the endless rounds of personal, social and political reproduction that have haunted revolutionary movements in the past.
Finally, in the opening paragraph of his greatest work, Capital, Marx (1867/1990) addresses the question of where one should start in trying to understand the world in which one finds oneself. His answer was to look at “commodities,” or even a single commodity. This is because all commodities are produced through relations of production and when we examine those relations, what ← xvi | xvii → becomes apparent are the moral and ethical valences in them, their relative justice or injustice, and their connection to broader global orders. I was thinking about this just the other day, while driving by a day-care centre close to my home. Contemplating day-care as a commodity, I started to ‘see’ things that until then had escaped my deeper consciousness. Children start arriving around seven in the morning, usually brought by their mothers who drop them off on their way to work. According to one of the day-care workers, most of the children come from single-parent homes. Children are accepted at the centre at the age of two. On some days, children are still at the day-care at six o’clock in the evening. I leave it to the reader’s imagination to ‘deconstruct’ this scenario through Marx’s theory of the relations of production, but here is a long starter question: What are the relations that make this kind of child care ‘necessary’—not just parent-child relations, but also proprietor-parent relations, proprietor relations to the owners of the building from whom they need to purchase a lease, relations of building owners to banks and financial institutions, relations of banks and financial institutions like J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs to cultures of militarism and war—that in turn produce immigrant and refugee populations who produce children needing special care as their parents desperately try to make a living in their new land? Wars also necessitate higher taxes on citizens, so paychecks gradually decrease in value, necessitating working longer and harder to make ends meet, to the neglect of one’s own children.
I was thinking about all of these things while reading the manuscript of this book, which is a remarkable collection of writings from a remarkable gathering of teachers brought together by Jackie Seidel and David Jardine. These are stories and writings of people who are trying to heal themselves of the cultural maladies of the neoliberal state, especially as those maladies find expression in the protocols and practices of public education today. Here are teachers doing the hard philosophical and existential work of clawing up to the concrete of their material conditions from deep within the caverns of lives in the process of being reclaimed from cultural and historical amnesia. It is very exciting to bear witness to this alternative kind of pedagogical exploration, and credit for this must surely go to Jackie and David, who have dared to claim that this kind of reclamation project is both possible and capable of bearing significant revolutionary fruit. I have seen this work in action at one of their special retreats, with one of the most impressive features being the degree to which the people involved had bonded together, across many potentially difficult divides of race, gender, age and experience. By laying themselves open to a fully collaborative consideration of the problems we collectively share as people living in deeply troubled and troubling times, this amazing group provides an example of what can be produced when the relations of production are based on mutual respect, patience, generosity, authentic listening and speaking, and a certain kind of hope shining forth from nascent senses of empowerment. ← xvii | xviii →
My reading of the manuscript also took me back to my own earlier years as an undergraduate in the 1960s. Those were times too of new forms of gathering amongst people determined not to simply, mindlessly reproduce what they had inherited, especially in view of the pervasive, malignant war culture created by and through those inheritances. Perhaps the most fecund gathering place of the time was Greenwich Village in New York City. There, artists of all stripes—writers, painters, musicians, philosophers—would gather in coffeehouses and bars not just to present their work but also to discuss the world that was making their work seem a profound moral obligation. Poet Allen Ginsberg might read from his long poem Howl!, a deeply moving rant against the assumptions of the military corporate state. Bob Dylan might sing his revolutionary song Blowin’ in the Wind. Joan Baez would inspire with her haunting rendition of the call to action, We Shall Overcome. All of this work fed the dreams and aspirations of a whole generation of young people, especially on college campuses even in Canada, which became centres of revolutionary ardour. We know how the story ended: police action. In the United States the National Guard shot students in cold blood.
As Stefan Halper and Jonathan Clarke (2004) have revealed in their book America Alone: The Neo-conservatives and the Global Order, when the neo-conservatives and their neoliberal siblings were plotting the takeover of the Anglo-American political system through the likes of Margaret Thatcher in England and Ronald Reagan in the United States, they vowed that never again would university campuses be allowed to become centres of political revolt and unrest. Such is the condition of our own time. Through strategies of surveillance, often masked as “accountability measures,” professors and students who dare to question dominant narratives, narratives saturated with state propaganda, especially regarding the events of 9/11 and the War on Terror, face ridicule, censure and counter-accusation. A culture of fear has produced an erosion of intellectual courage; timidity has replaced honesty and forthrightness.
There is nothing new about all this, of course, as history tells us. However, each generation bears responsibility for upholding principles of justice, fairness, openness and hope in its own time, not for the past, nor for the future but for today, and the responsibility may fall in unique ways on the shoulders of educators. What will the enactment of such responsibility look like, and how shall it be cultivated? There is a hint of an answer in the ancient Greek term parrhesia, which literally means “to speak everything,” implying speaking boldly, freely, frankly and without guile. It is the form of speech which characterized that of Socrates during his defense against charges of corrupting the youth of Athens by encouraging them to ask questions, and for his refusal to bow to local gods. One can read his speech in Plato’s Apology. More recently, Cornel West (2015) in Black Prophetic Fire has invoked the term to describe the work of African American intellectuals like W. E. B. Du Bois, Ella Baker, Ida B. Wells, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X who ← xviii | xix → directly and courageously confronted the systemic racism of American life, sometimes at the cost of their own lives. Michel Foucault (2001) discussed parrhesia in his book Fearless Speech, making the important point that such speech is linked to truthfulness in one’s own life, as well as in the taking of risk and the acceptance of moral duty. Again, I think one can glimpse nascent signs of all of these characteristics in the variegated writings of this book and for that I applaud Jackie and David’s courage in making it possible.
In closing, I note two other aspects of parrhesia. One is that in Greek philosophy it is counterpointed to the use of rhetoric (Gk. rhetor). The teaching of rhetoric as the art and practice of persuasive speech, speech intended to persuade hearers to a particular point of view, was part of the core curriculum for students in classical Greece and it remained so in Europe generally until the late Middle Ages. Rhetoric fell out of favour, however, because it was recognized that self-consciously mastering the techniques of persuasive speech easily led to the more craven arts of manipulation and verbal fraud. Today, rhetoric serves the lords of advertising and the macabre interests of propaganda. Conversely, parrhesia is unself-conscious speech, not a servant of the will or ego but simply the stating of the truth of things no matter what the cost.
In the ancient Hebrew tradition, the capacity for plain speaking was often linked to the word dimus, meaning “free inhabitants of the land.” It shared an understanding with that of “the commons,” understood as a kind of ownerless wilderness, an understanding to emerge from the early Israelite experience of wandering in the open deserts of the southeastern Mediterranean. In the true wilderness nobody owns anything because openness and sharing are the necessary conditions of survival. So it may be in our own time. Our capacity for new formations of community based on honesty, openness and sharing may depend first and foremost on a recognition that indeed we are living in the midst of a wilderness, a cultural desert, a time of great moral corruption through the rule of Mammon. It is so easy to get lost. To survive, we must depend not only on one another but also on people who have journeyed through wildernesses in the past and lived to tell about it. Most principally, though, to acknowledge the moral desert of the times is to acknowledge, in the same breath, one’s own freedom, the freedom to speak and act freely, without fear. There is nothing to fear because the essential truth of life simply is what it is, not a possession in any conceptual sense, or even possessable, only lived as a manner of being, and joyously too because it is indestructible. The gates of hell cannot prevail against it. Read the chapters in this book and you’ll get a sense of what I mean.
Develop the following ideas with respect to your teachers. I have wandered for a long time through cyclic existence, and they search for me; I have been asleep, having been obscured by delusion for a long time, and they wake me; they pull me out of the depths of the ocean of existence; I have entered a bad path, and they reveal the good path to me; they release me from being bound in the prison of existence. I have been worn out by illness for a long time, and they are my doctors; they are the rain clouds that put out my blazing fire of attachment.
—TSONG-KHA-PA (2000, P. 83)
Everything is teaching you. Isn’t this so? Can you just get up and walk away so easily now?
—AJAHN CHAH (2004, P. 5)
This book gathers together writings about and by teachers. It draws on three bodies of scholarly endeavor that fall outside of the purview of much educational literature: ecology, Buddhism and hermeneutics. These three lineages insist, each in its own way, that our lived surroundings teach, and that our attunement to these teachings is key to a thoughtful, sustainable and livable future. The writings in this text demonstrate how everything is teaching us—objects and school artifacts, children, illness, elders, texts, colleagues and friends and enemies, animals, bodies, places and their names, images housed in our shared and contested languages, our inner and outer afflictions and contemplations, conflicts and loves—the very Earth and our breathing of it seeks to teach.
Suggesting that everything is teaching you—that it has a story to tell if we are able to learn how to hear it—is a profoundly ecological, scholarly and contemplative act, and an act of refuge from the noisy surface clatter that defines ← 1 | 2 → contemporary life, especially, sad to say, much of the life of schools. The writing in this book is born of such a sense of refuge, contemplation and deep, difficult thinking about our circumstances and what stories have driven us, and what story we might tell about the stories we’ve told or simply fallen for, that would break this relentless, seemingly ever-accelerating spell that makes us believe that our exhaustion and panic are nothing but “the real world” and “just the way things are.” It helps identify and interrupt current discourses of technical, managerial and efficiency obsessions in education (Callahan, 1964; Jardine, 2008b, 2013; Kanigel, 2005; Picciano & Spring, 2012; Seidel, 2006; Taylor, 1911) while at the same time vastly expanding our sense of where teaching resides and therefore what it means to be a teacher who finds oneself in the midst of a living world that is already full of lessons to be taught and learned. The scholarly lineages of hermeneutics, Buddhism and ecology provide not only critiques of our current circumstances but also new language, new insights and new possibilities for stepping into the practice of teaching in ways that are more livable for students and teachers and the world(s) of knowledge with which they have been entrusted.
As for the term “radical” in our title, we want to recover part of the meaning of this term that has, it seems, fallen from memory. “Radical” stems from the Latin radix, “rootedness” or, to use the Buddhist term, an experience of the “dependent co-arising,” not only of myself and my teachers and students, but of any and all curriculum topics we consider. Each curriculum topic, properly and carefully considered, is, by its very nature, radical, rooted in living fields of ancestry, language, inheritance, shared and contested, new and ancient. Our learning to live in and with these living fields requires the radicality of teachers and students alike in questioning what these things might mean, given our current ecologically imminent circumstances.
The pieces in this book called on contributors to enact the old hermeneutic art (Gadamer, 1989) of mindfully and carefully unpacking the messages that are coming to us (to our students and to ourselves) in a way that itself has ecological echoes (Seidel & Jardine, 2014). It is an act of “learning your way around” (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000, p. 138) in these living fields of messages, of coming to “know one’s way around” (Gadamer, 1989, p. 260) and not simply to be pushed and pulled around by stories that have lost their tell. These last images capture how this way of proceeding provides an eminently practical image of the nature of teaching and learning itself, one the authors have explored in great detail elsewhere (Friesen & Jardine, 2011; Jardine, 2011, 2013a; Jardine, Clifford, & Friesen, 2006, 2008; Seidel & Jardine, 2014). These are further elaborated by the many stories shared by teachers in this book.
This book emerged out of three years of intensive graduate-level study with a large group of practicing teachers in Calgary, Alberta, many of whom have contributed to this text (see the following chapter, “We Went Once Around the Sun,” ← 2 | 3 → for more detail about these courses and about how this book is organized). Our classes were deliberately understood as a refuge from the regimes of distraction that surround schools, a chance to retell the tale of what good we are doing in the world, under its current ecologically and spiritually ominous circumstances. What happened was that teachers knew something was going on outside of the confines they seemed stuck in. Our collaborative study of the stories we are living out provided a way to begin to speak, to write, to enjoin each other in lineages of thought and study that provide release, relief and a deeper sense of being able to ask, along with farmer/philosopher Wendell Berry (Berry & Moyers, 2013): What is the right thing to do, here, now, in these circumstances of our living? As we asked such questions together, other work we had been studying of scholars, poets and philosophers, including Elliot Eisner, Philip Phenix, Maxine Greene, David G. Smith, Cynthia Chambers, Narcisse Blood, Dwayne Donald, bell hooks, Ashis Nandy, Hans-Georg Gadamer, William Doll, Joseph Campbell, David R. Loy, Thomas King, Thich Nhat Hanh, Ted Aoki, Don Domanski, Maria Montessori. All the referentialities that come with studying the work of these and many more scholars, poets and storytellers came cascading into their/our writing, weaving a story beyond the confines of where it first began.
Surroundings of ancestors, lineages, elders, voices, companions—this is what emerges in stories from the ecological, radical heart of curriculum, the heart of our common and contested “course,” and our work felt increasingly surrounded, supported, rooted and encouraged by the lines of thinking that wove around us. During our courses, we heard many times that teachers often feel that they are alone in their suspicions about their circumstances, and often their only recourse is dis-ease, complaint and exhaustion. During our studies together, we examined how this isolation is a deliberate by-product of industrial and managerial schemes and how it is profoundly anti-pedagogical at its root. The refuge of our common work in this book was one of relief and commiseration, of realizing that with study one can fill the surroundings with tales of joy and hope. In this regard, this text draws on “life writing” (Chambers, Hasebe-Ludt, Leggo, & Sinner, 2012), “writing as research” (Richardson, 1994; Richardson & St. Pierre, 2005) and hermeneutic writing (see Jardine, 2013a, 2015c; Moules, McCaffrey, Field, & Laing, 2015; Seidel & Jardine, 2014). Many chapters will provide readers with rich examples of this sort of work.
In the end, this book has a double intent:
• It is designed and written to be a refuge of encouragement for teachers and students in schools who have sensed that there is something amiss and who are attempting to step away from our current circumstances.
• It designed and written to be a scholarly and ancestral sourcebook for that refuge, providing examples for those engaged in undergraduate, graduate, professional or personal study in and of education, curriculum and pedagogy. ← 3 | 4 →
Our book aims to reconnect readers to these rigorous and academically solid roots and to show the practical nature and importance of such reconnection—how it enlivens knowledge and engagement in teachers and students alike and provides a realistic and grounded sense of hope that neither ignores our current circumstances nor simply falls for them.
Thus, The Ecological Heart of Teaching is our storied offering: a refuge and a sourcebook that sees teaching as an ancient and radical art.
While sitting in David’s sun-filled office in the forests west of Calgary, finalizing the editing and reminiscing about how this book came to be, Jackie said: “It’s because we went once around the sun!” We both laughed with pleasure at recognizing this to be true, that this long arc of time was one of our companions. We interrupted our editing to contemplate what it means and why it matters to remember, in these human and educational worlds, that we are gravitational travelers around that fiery star that makes all life possible.
In February 2015, we presented with a group of fifteen graduate students at the Provoking Curriculum Conference (Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies) at the University of British Columbia. The presentation was a forty-five-minute, multi-voice performance that included excerpts from many of the chapters in this book. When we finished, the audience was interested in understanding the context of the graduate courses in which this work had been made possible. In particular, some wanted to know how we had been able to create such rich, philosophical, performative scholarship within the contemporary confines of the market structures of universities, in particular the constraints of measurable course objectives, or having to assign grades. Indeed, these are constraining times. The chapters in this book written by graduate students, most of them educators, are existential responses to what it means to live in such a time. What afflicts the university is also afflicting the educational spaces of the young and those who teach them. In the graduate programs from which this book emerged, we were not free from such constraints; but rather than be limited by them, we made the ← 5 | 6 → conscious study of them part of our purpose together. We took seriously Robert Bly’s (2005) admonishment in his poem “Advice from the Geese”: “I don’t want to frighten you, but not a stitch can be taken / in your quilt unless you study” (p. 29). And so, we studied with rigour and purpose, not for the purpose of achieving a grade or credential, but for the existential purpose of understanding our lives and this world together. And although we didn’t answer those questions in this way at that time, our best, most genuine and heartfelt answer in retrospect to how we did this is that we went once around the sun!
In 2012, under the auspices of the Werklund School of Education’s revised graduate programs, we created and offered a four-course graduate certificate called “Roots of Classroom Inquiry.” A local school graciously hosted us and more than twenty graduate students each week for a year. During the first certificate, we decided to create a second one: “Storytelling in the Ecological Heart of Curriculum.” In 2013, the same school welcomed us with about twenty-five graduate students to meet weekly, while another school offered hospitality for a second cohort of a re-imagined “Roots of Classroom Inquiry.” In the beginning, our imaginations were bound by the technical confines of post-secondary organization: four courses of three credits each with distinct beginnings and endings. By the second year, we realized that it made more sense to imagine each certificate as one year-long course, even though we were required to provide four course outlines, each with its own readings, assignments, outcomes, objectives and, of course, final grades at the end of each term. By the time we offered “Storytelling” again in 2014, with again a local school offering a warm and peaceful space to gather, we had learned a new kind of rhythm for collaborative study with teachers and others interested in these topics. Together with the graduate students, we learned to push away and practiced purposefully pushing away the institutional structures which, in David Loy’s (2010) words, were binding us “without a rope” (p. 42).
Because we went once around the sun.
In twelve-week or one-semester courses, most universities’ usual offerings, a topic must necessarily be condensed and rushed. There may be time for a surface-level survey, or for a seed to be planted and begin sprouting, but not enough for it to fully become itself and take root. We learned that a year together allowed us to luxuriate in time, to wait for ideas to grow, to not feel bound by a twelve-week structure to meet predetermined outcomes; rather, we could plant seeds and then wait, we could be patient, we could see what might grow and perhaps even harvest.
And we could eat. At the beginning, we made time for a snack in the middle of our three-hour evening class. As time went on, both the nourishing quality and the amount of food that members of the community brought in increased, as did the time that we spent together enjoying this food. Eating together was no longer ← 6 | 7 → a “break” but a vital part of our study together, a revitalizing part of the rhythm of our evenings and our year. Nourishing our bodies was not separate from nourishing our minds which is not separate from our miraculous participation in this nearly five billion year old planetary cycling around this star. In such a body-space-time, we were able to start telling different stories about what our work is for and about with children, in schools, in this time. We were able to engage in different, new and multiple stories, perspectives and interpretations about what was happening around us, and pull ourselves out of the myriad panics that seem to inflict schools.
Because we went once around the sun.
Our certificate outcomes did not include publishing a book of writing by graduate students; yet, here it is. Our main learning activities included reading, and rereading, and talking about what we read, and writing, and sharing our writing. From these practices, and we understood them as practices, emerged several conference presentations that many students participated in, and then—this book. It couldn’t have happened if we didn’t go once around the sun. There wouldn’t have been time. There wouldn’t have been trust between us to share our writing, first with one another, and then with a broader audience in public, and then on paper in this book. There would have been no harvest.
Because we went once around the sun, ideas and stories began to circulate and take root in our scholarly community. One day in class, we were meditating together on a particularly challenging passage in David Loy’s (2010) book The World Is Made of Stories. One of the students joked, “Can you imagine if we gave this book to a new teacher and told them this was the only guide book they needed?” We all laughed. And then we took that seriously. Several of the chapters in this book grew from that moment, and that idea, and are formed as letters or advice to beginning teachers inspired by David Loy’s book. We are grateful to David Geoffrey Smith for inspiring us with an assignment he gave to his graduate classes at the University of Alberta: Curriculum Artifact Studies. We suggested this as a possible writing activity/practice to our students. In this book there are several studies of artifacts that are so commonplace, ubiquitous and normalized in school environments as to have become invisible to us. The work of studying them carefully and closely, of examining the unconscious power they have in these places as objects that shape school culture, reveals them to us as conscious and interpretable. It enables us to ask: Why is this here? How did it get here? What does it do? What power does it hold over us? How does it shape these educational spaces? What happens to our work if it is gone? David Geoffrey Smith’s chapter as a contribution to this book, “Blossom Everlasting: A Meditation,” is another example of how such artifact studies might serve as freeing and hermeneutic gestures that renew understandings of the invisible and everyday around us. By stopping, and ← 7 | 8 → contemplating, we learn to see anew, and different stories can be told, and therefore different lives can be lived.
There is another important sense, and double meaning, to this cycling nature of life to consider and that was important to our studies. David Loy (2010) writes, “Samsara—this world of suffering, according to Buddhism—literally means going around and around” (p. 23). As we studied together, and shared stories of schools and classrooms, our conversations often turned to the kinds of suffering that are experienced in schools and communities by children, young people and teachers. We studied the ways that schools and teachers try to escape suffering, and remembered that these efforts can often cause increased or repeated suffering. Many chapters in this book either reference or are directly focused on a very immediate and material example of this: the strong reappearance in schools of leveled readers along with the highly teacher-directed, corporate trademarked methodology of Guided Reading (even with commercialized furniture and storage methods to facilitate it!). Recognizing and understanding the storied nature of these “artifacts,” and their entanglement in capitalism, colonialism and the history of schooling, helped us to understand more fully how it is also possible to un-story or refuse them, to put them in their place, and to tell a different narrative of our hopes and intentions for children and the world. It enabled us to understand how such practices in schools seem to return again and again, in response to fear and anxiety, and compound suffering upon suffering. It enabled us to understand that our work might not be able to escape this, while at the same time envisioning ways of stepping off the wheel of suffering, even for a moment, to participate in more life-giving and life-sustaining cycles of the earth. This included eating the most delicious and nourishing foods together—foods nourished by the sun, gifted by the earth, given by one another—while engaged in serious conversation about our most serious concerns.
Because the chapters grew from that space, this book is organized as a conversation. We imagined that a reader might experience a bit of what we experienced. In putting the book together, we tried other, more conventional organizational strategies such as sections or themes. We tried grouping the stories about elders, the stories about animals, the stories about children and so on, but as we read through the manuscript this did not feel right. Then, we spread the chapters around on large conference tables and realized that it was better to put the pieces in conversation with one another, as if they were sitting around a table and sharing a meal. They all belong together. They all intersect. They all grew from the same place. They share an affinity that goes beyond themes or sections.
Because we went once around the sun, babies were conceived and were born (and also, in grief, not born) during the time we spent together. Several of our elders died during our studies (Ted Aoki: 1919–2012; Maxine Greene: 1917–2014; Elliot Eisner: 1933–2014; Narcisse Blood: 1954–2015). We mourned them ← 8 | 9 → and read their words more heartfully and. they gave us courage for this work. In reading far beyond the educational research and literature, we explored what David Loy (2010) refers to as “fragile ecological niches” (p. 32). This matters, he says, because the common story plots that shape this world are “invasive species that promote the cargo cult of commodifying consumption” (p. 32). Practicing and learning to listen to and tell other kinds of stories, to protect and create spaces for these fragile ecological niches to survive became our work together. One cohort spent a weekend at the Banff Centre, studying with Dwayne Donald and David Geoffrey Smith, walking in the spring snow by the Bow River, one of the precious headwater sources of life for those of us who live in southern Alberta. We are grateful for their profound contributions to our learning, both in person and through their scholarship, and for their contributions to this book. Michael Derby traveled from the west coast of British Columbia for a visit, to commiserate about the challenges of graduate school, writing, about the work teachers do with young people, and the conditions and possibilities of that work. He generously contributed a chapter that includes some of the writing and conversation from the evening he shared with us. We’ve also included David Jardine’s introduction (“How to Love Black Snow”) to Michael’s (Derby, 2015) book that was written during our sun turning.
The subtitle of this book, Radical Tales of Refuge and Renewal for Classrooms and Communities, signals an understanding that schools are in a place, and as such, that the ecological heart of teaching properly belongs in communities. This is where we learn together and from one another, the young from the old, the old from the young, parents and children and teachers together, the human from the non-human. We remember that we are gravity-bound Earthbeings, and that the roots that sustain us might be found in the life-giving and life-serving stories we can share as we travel together around our star. Its bountiful energy feeds our communities both literally and mythologically. It warms the pages of this book. “The truth about stories,” writes Thomas King (2003), “is that’s all we are” (p. 2).
We went once around the sun.
As part of an ongoing effort to articulate new ways of living together that are not fully circumscribed by colonial frontier logics (Donald, 2009b, 2012a, 2012b), I have been increasingly inspired by the wisdom teachings of Cree Elders. In Cree teachings, ethical forms of relationality are emphasized as most important because doing so supports life and living for all perceptive beings in organically generative ways. The Cree wisdom concepts most central to this relational insight are wicihitowin and wahkohtowin. The term wicihitowin1 refers to the life-giving energy that is generated when people face each other as relatives and build trusting relationships by connecting with others in respectful ways. In doing so, we demonstrate that we recognize one another as fellow human beings and work hard to put respect and love at the forefront of our interactions. The Elders teach that when wicihitowin is enacted in these ways—with the true spirit and intent of what it evokes—that there is much good that flows from it. The term wahkohtowin refers to kinship relations and teaches us to extend our relational network so that it also includes the more-than-human beings that live amongst us. Doing so helps us remain mindful that we human beings are fully enmeshed in a series of relationships that enable us to live. Thus, following the relational wisdom of wahkohtowin, we are called to repeatedly acknowledge and honour the fact that the sun, the land, the wind, the water, the animals and the trees (just to name a few) are quite literally our relatives; we carry parts of each of them inside our own bodies. We are fully reliant on them for our survival, and so the wise person works to ensure that those more-than-human relatives are kept healthy and treated with the deep respect that they deserve. ← 10 | 11 →
Taken together, wicihitowin and wahkohtowin can be understood as promoting ethical relationality. Ethical relationality is an ecological understanding of organic connectivity that becomes readily apparent to us as human beings when we honour the sacred ecology that supports all life and living. Thus, ethical relationality describes an enactment of ecological imagination wherein our thoughts and actions are guided by the wisdom of sacred ecology insights. Ethical relationality does not deny difference nor does it promote assimilation of it. Rather, ethical relationality supports the conceptualization of difference in ecological terms as necessary for life and living to continue. It guides us to seek deeper understandings of how our different histories, memories and experiences position us in relation to one another. It puts those differences at the forefront as necessary for wicihitowin and wahkohtowin to be enacted. So, ethical relationality is tied to a desire to acknowledge and honour the significance of the relationships we have with others, how our histories and experiences position us in relation to one another, and how our futures as people in the world are similarly tied together. It is an ethical imperative to remember that we as human beings live in the world together and also alongside our more-than-human relatives; we are called to constantly think and act with reference to those relationships.
The main insight that flows from these Cree wisdom teachings is that a purely human understanding of ethical relationality is a significantly impoverished version of those teachings in that it disregards sacred ecology. We need stories and mythologies that teach us how to be good relatives with all our relations—human and more-than-human. We need stories that guide us to honour wicihitowin and wahkohtowin. What follows is a series of textual engagements with three publically displayed mural artifacts that are intended to exemplify our ongoing struggles to enact ethical relationality.
THE GRANDIN MURAL
Inspired by the words of Tomson Highway (2003), I have become an apprentice to myth. Now, I don’t mean myth as in an outlandish story made up by some misled person. Instead, I understand myths as insights into the lives of people and what really matters to them. The insights are manifestations of idealized versions of the past that are simplified and made coherent when people select particular events and characters which seem to embody important cultural values and then elevate them to the status of myth. Thus, myths can be understood as creation stories that articulate an originary dream of happiness and serve to provide guidance to people on how they should live their lives. In this sense, mythologies are templates of public dreams—a society’s dream of and for itself. Following Highway (2003) and his Cree sensibilities, I understand these mythologies as neither truth stories ← 11 | 12 → nor webs of fiction; instead, mythologies are located at the exact halfway point between them. They are simultaneously truth and fiction.
Because I am also an apprentice to curriculum, I spend much time considering the intersections and overlaps of mythologies and curricula. If we can say that curricula are compilations of stories we tell children about the world and their relationships to it, then—following Herbert Spencer (Banks, 1980)—we can also say that particular stories are selected as curricula because they have been deemed most worth telling. Much of the work of curriculum inquirers is focused on clarifying the ways and means by which certain stories are selected over others as most worth telling. To better understand the ways and means by which particular curriculum stories are selected and promoted over others requires an inquiry that engages with the mythological networks that undergird the public dreams held by a society. These networks are often difficult to discern because such public dreams are usually framed and understood in commonsense logics that are perceived as uncontroversial. History and memory are often conceptualized in ways that perpetuate those commonsense logics. For many societies, there is a truth element given to their ways of being, knowing and remembering that is not considered mythological in character. Rather, it is usually understood as a naturalized state of affairs that need not be interrogated in any meaningful way. It is typically considered bad manners to engage in such interrogation because it is unsettling for those who have invested so much of themselves in these inherited truths. Like Roland Barthes (1957/1972), I have come to resent “seeing Nature and History confused at every turn, and I wanted to track down, in the decorative display of what-goes-without-saying, the ideological abuse which, in my view, is hidden there” (p. 11).
let me tell you one about grandin.2 he’s a holy man. bisop. he come from france long time ago. dem days you know not too many people here eh just us indians. he talk about god ← 12 | 13 → with people dere at st. albert. help us learn dem white man ways. only ting he take dose indian kids. the sisters dey do dat too. took dem away for school. pretty soon dey don’t know deirselves. teach dem to be good white man i spose. it’s a good story for dem. it’s different our side. we tink about dem kids. how dey miss deir mamas. how much dey hurt from dat. it’s like dat even today.
THE GLYDE MURAL
I have lately become preoccupied with prophesies and visions. This preoccupation is inspired by the reported visions and prophesies of mistahi maskwa—the Cree Chief also known as Big Bear—and how his attention to these had a profound influence on the decisions he made concerning his dealings with newcomers to Cree territory. mistahi maskwa had a powerful vision following his recovery from a bout of smallpox in 1838. His vision, almost forty years before Treaty 6 was negotiated, foretold of the arrival of many newcomers to Cree territory, the purchase of the land and the promise of bounteous presents from a Great Mother (Dempsey, 1984, p. 17). A later vision involved mistahi maskwa himself trying to cover with his hand a spring that was shooting up out of the ground. He was unable to stop the flow and the liquid spurted up between his fingers and covered the back of his hand. It was bright red blood (Dempsey, 1984, p. 85). mistahi maskwa had a rich mythological network to draw on when attempting to make sense of these visions. He saw them as warnings of terrible things to come for his people and did what he could to resist them. This decision resulted in mistahi maskwa going to jail where he became sick and eventually died an untimely death. His vision came true, as he knew it would.
I was thinking of these visions some time ago while sitting in on a meeting at the City of Edmonton’s Aboriginal Relations Office. We were meeting with representatives of the Francophone community to discuss the removal of the so-called Grandin mural that has been on display at a downtown LRT station in Edmonton since 1989. Artist Sylvie Nadeau’s creation commemorates the missionary work of Bishop Vital Grandin in the area and celebrates French Canadian contributions to the opening of the Canadian West to settlement (Nadeau, 2011). Nadeau drew on her understandings of the French Canadian mythological network to create the mural. In doing so, though, she offended many people who see the public display of the celebratory mural as an insult to the thousands of Aboriginal children who experienced multiple traumas while attending Indian residential schools. The controversy surrounding the Grandin mural and its proposed removal is just one more example of the rising problem in Canada concerning public representations of the relationships between Aboriginal peoples and Canadians. Whose mythologies do we follow when constructing these representations? Which mythologies would ← 13 | 14 → best enable us to overcome the “iron logic of immanence” (Hodson, 2004, p. 3), a form of public pedagogy that has taught for many years that an entity called the West has arisen as a kind of “moral success story” for the rest of the world to follow and imitate (Wolf, 1982, p. 5)? In this rendition, “history is thus converted into a tale about the furtherance of virtue, about how the virtuous win out over the bad guys” (Wolf, 1982, p. 5).
Mistahi maskwa saw it all coming. I wonder what visions he would have for us today.
dey talk about prayer dis one. us indians we listen. we know about prayer eh. we know about holy. it’s our ways too. not just white man knows about dat. dese holy man dey want us to pray like dey do. pray dem words come from england and from french too. about jesus. we don’t know how come dey talk like dat. dey tink we don’t know prayer. don’t know why dey tink dat. maybe dey don’t like us indians. don’t like our ways. dey can’t listen when we pray our ways. dey can’t listen for dat. just on deir side. us indians we listen holy man dere. white man he’s with god. white man he wants his ways. amiskwaciywaskihikan3 only for dem now. it’s his place. it’s his ways. white man he’s da boss dat time. he own everyting. it’s for dem. pretty soon dere’s no place for us. we got no place. no place for dem good stories.
For the most part, I would say that the field of curriculum has traditionally been conservative in character. Curricularists have generally attempted to identify a societal trend that is already in motion and address it in curriculum documents. The implied desire is to describe a status quo, stabilize it and normalize it to reduce dissonance. Take Aboriginal curricular initiatives as an example. For the most part, such initiatives are not radical or visionary. They are in response to obvious societal and demographic trends and predicated on helping Aboriginal ← 14 | 15 → students become more successful in mainstream schooling contexts. Success, in this example, is measured by how well Aboriginal topics and students can be swallowed into the larger corpus known as education. That corpus feeds on and digests what it swallows, and eventually poops out what it cannot otherwise process.
I’d like to think that curriculum can be better than that. I’d like to think that curricularists can be visionaries. This would mean that curricularists would provide thoughtful leadership concerning Aboriginal-Canadian relations and take responsibility for envisioning a fundamentally different kind of relationship. This envisioning process is not dedicated to the stabilization of a desired status quo, but is instead focused on promoting more ethical ways of living in relation to those who don’t look like us.
What are the mythological networks that curricularists can draw on as sources of inspirations when doing such work? Joseph Campbell states that one of the problems that North American societies face is that mythologies particular to land and place have been ignored or denuded to the point that they now have no guiding ethos (Campbell, 1988, pp. 9–11). For the most part, the dominant mythologies that guide settler societies like Canada are characterized by notions of power and control perpetuated under the aegis of colonial power and the expansion of market capitalism (Donald, 2009a and b). These are the stories that children have been told in Canadian schools for many generations. While we certainly need to demythologize these stories and expose the colonial logics embedded within them, we also urgently need to remythologize ourselves. We need the guidance of those creation stories—those dreams of happiness that help us live good ethical lives alongside our many relations. Whose mythologies can provide such guidance?
that janvier from cold lake he make dis eh? well me I don’t know deir ways. don’t know da dene ways. but I see that she make a kind of prayer for us. for all da relation living here. all da relation. da water. dem mountains. da animals too, wawakesiw, mooswa, ← 15 | 16 → moostos.5 da birds. askiy—it’s for da land too. here land and sky it’s one ting. how dey work together. hold hands. dey talk. we see how dey are relationship. us indians we come from da sky. it’s for our stories and our songs. that’s why we see sky talk dere. human being talk to da sky. sing to da sky. bring down dat sky. it’s about us for good life again. find our place again. all dose relation come for dis prayer. that janvier he calls dem relation. asks dem to come. don’t need dene words to hear dis. i see it. I hear her singing. it’s holy song. it’s for all of us you know. it’s even da white man. maybe she hears the singing too. maybe it’s for wicihitowin. wahkohtowin—good relation. that janvier he make a good prayer for us.
1. Following the textual practices of McLeod (2007), I do not capitalize Cree words in this piece, even when they are names or appear at the beginning of sentences. This is an aesthetic choice intended to emphasize difference and make the point that Indigenous language use does not need to conform to conventions of English language use.
2. This commentary and the two that follow are inspired by the works of Halfe (1994) and Scofield (1993) and the provocative ways in which they both follow English and Cree linguistic sensibilities in their poetic texts. The particular character of the texts created in this piece is also informed by the speech patterns of Cree Elders and the poignant ways in which they can express complex understandings using an imposed language while simultaneously struggling to follow basic English language conventions such as consistency of gender designations.
3. The Cree name for Fort Edmonton translated into English as “Beaver Hills House.”
4. This is the title of a painting by well-known Dene Suline and Saulteaux artist Alex Janvier.
5. In order as mentioned, these Cree words are translated as “elk,” “moose,” and “buffalo.”
I first encountered the words “successful assimilation” while reading everything I could about the significant loss of lands for the Michel First Nation Band. Michel First Nation is where my family comes from. My great-grandfather was chief. My grandfather was chief after him. Trace it back far enough and I am a direct descendant of Michel Calihoo for whom the band was named. He himself was a signatory on the Treaty 6 documentation. This is not a loose association with Native people. This is something more.
Yet I would never be looked at by unknowing eyes as a Native person. I don’t have the skin tone; I don’t speak the language and colorful feathers are a fashion statement I have always shied away from.
In 1958, for the first and only time in Canadian history, the Canadian government involuntarily enfranchised the remaining and vastly depleted lands of the Michel Band as a whole and sold these lands to various parties. The Indian Act was changed in 1958 specifically for the “legal” enfranchisement of Michel lands, then immediately changed back in 1959 after the completion of land title transfer. Between 1880 and 1958, the entire 25,600 acres of Michel reserve were lost to enfranchisement and surrender.
We are now a scattered people. A people without a cultural and ancestral homeland. A people without our extended family around the next corner. A people with no land on which to share our stories with ourselves or with others. We, the Michel Nation, are disconnected and disjointed from each other and our heritage. ← 17 | 18 →
Would this be different if we were not “landless”? This landlessness and “enfranchisement” has many far-reaching implications. The stories are not as strong as they used to be. The traditions are beginning to fade, the understandings of the land are beginning to dwindle. And if we take an idea from Thomas King (2003) that all we are is our stories, where does that leave the people of Michel? We don’t live with our relatives, in the same community like other bands, like other indigenous families. We don’t have a place to come together, to celebrate, to mourn, to pass on knowledge and history. I would assert that the dispossession of our lands has led to the breakdown of my family and our connection to one another and our culture.
Or as others may view it: Successful assimilation.
So who am I? I do not speak our language, I do not drum or chant. I cannot hoop dance. And yet I choose to identify myself as aboriginal and as a member of Michel Nation.
Am I the “assimilated Indian” whom the government and Frank Oliver were looking for? Are we, the people of Michel, an example of successful enfranchising?
This year, I started a new teaching position. I am a literacy specialist, and 98 percent of my students are learning English and entering into a new culture for the first time. Yet, I also walked into a building where books exist at “levels” and are housed in plastic bags. These are objects removed from their “place.” Literacy is thought to be successful if children move up the ladder from plastic-leveled bag to plastic-leveled bag. We continue to colonize these children through the good news of literacy. Learn to read and become civilized.
This school, as with many others, assumes its audience before teaching begins. It does not matter who walks through that door, the curriculum and the aim will be same. There is a constant low level of panic. What if they don’t learn to read? What if we, as teachers, fail? Every aspect of curriculum has been disconnected from where it truly lives.
How do we step outside the panic? How do we slow down in a time of terrible trial when this is what we see every day in schools?
The current response to kids not reading is to give them books not worth reading. These plastic bags promise quick growth and increased phonemic awareness. They promise a year’s growth in only six months. Follow the program and all will be okay. They, in fact, promise successful assimilation. These words now sit very heavily on my shoulders and they are uncomfortable.
Global warming is threatening human life.
The dollar is falling. Your stocks are losing value.
Traffic is at a standstill. You will be late.
You’ll never be able to pay off that loan.
Our forests are being destroyed.
There is much in the world to make us afraid. Our economy is anxious. This panic has penetrated the walls of schools and spreads like mold. The pulses of schools race.
Narrow, crowded hallways push masses of children along, shoving them towards the ever-important future.
Towering, forbidding steel fences surround the buildings, whispering the paranoia of school shootings, intruders and the anxiety that too much freedom would surely bring.
Sharp sounding bells deliberately induce panic, reminding the children that they are out of time, making their hearts race and their bodies jump.
The fluorescent lights hum, mimicking the panicked buzz of a trapped fly. Classrooms are filled with piercing rays of artificial light, installed to supplement the lack of real sunshine.
Sometimes the anxiety of the building I teach in tries to infuse its way into my classroom, trying to root itself within me and the children.
In those moments when this despair edges its way in, I feel threatened by the time constraints, mounds of paperwork and the dichotomy between ← 19 | 20 → curriculum-as-plan and curriculum-as-lived (Aoki, 2005, p. 159). These seemingly important pieces of education begin to steal my stillness and replace it with the lures of distraction.
Anxiety stabs at my mindfulness and suddenly it takes strength to pause and listen to the child who is telling me a story because I am distracted by planned curriculum. I feel myself rushing. If I’m rushing, the children must be rushing too.
I can feel the building poisoning my soul with a pedagogy of panic.
I must pause.
I recognize the panic that surrounds us, but I recognize the treatment too.
I search for reminders within me that inspire. The words of David Smith (1999) bring comfort:
If we can be more at ease with things not immediately understood, more patient and more hungry for a simple love of the world itself as our earthly home, maybe we have a chance at taking one small step into the future (p. 24).
The words of Wendell Berry (2010, p. 13) offer serenity:
The river is of the earth and it is free. It is rigorously embanked and bound, and yet it is free. “To hell with restraint,” it says.
I listen to the reprieve within the words of Ajahn Chah (2002, p. 327):
This isn’t my business. It’s impermanent, unsatisfactory and not-self.
This panic that tries to lure me in is not okay.
I seek the solace within the peaceful reminder that Thich Nhat Hanh (1991, p. 104) offers:
Peace is present right here and now, in ourselves and in everything we do and see. Every breath we take, every step we take, can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity. We need only to be awake, alive in the present moment.
These reminders give me strength to recognize that this panic is not okay. The economy might be sick, but this disease has no place in our classroom. When I feel this anxiety creeping in, I must practice filling my soul with stillness and a pedagogy of peacefulness. ← 20 | 21 →
Global warming is threatening human life.
The dollar is falling. Your stocks are losing value.
Traffic is at a standstill. You will be late.
You’ll never be able to pay off that loan.
Our forests are being destroyed.
Stephanie’s hand shot up in the air, just as I was about to introduce a math lesson. I know she can take us on a tangent. She asks a lot of questions and when she speaks she is not always concise. But, her excitement and energy about life and new ideas always seem to draw me in. This day I hesitated long enough for her to say, “This is totally off topic, but I want to ask your opinion about something.”
Any time a student asks my opinion I find myself entering the tensioned space between the planned curriculum, which Aoki (2005) refers to as the curriculum guide or the mandated curriculum, that teachers are required to teach, and the lived curriculum, which Aoki denotes as the space in which teachers exist with their students; a place of complexity requiring decisions to be made in order to keep the class “alive and moving” (Aoki, 2005, p. 161).
Stephanie proceeded to tell me that she just had an eighty-minute debate in Humanities about the fact that Calgary’s city hall is flying a rainbow flag during the Olympics and only seven students thought it was a good thing.
“Even our teacher disagreed!”
The fact that I didn’t know about the rainbow flag was a surprise to me. I am an “out” teacher.
I didn’t always want to be a teacher. At least I didn’t think I wanted to. However, it is difficult to discern what I wanted from what I thought was actually possible. What I do know is that I was plagued by fear. ← 22 | 23 →
What would the students and parents think?
Will the parents even allow their children to be taught by a homosexual?
Will the parents assume that I will have a negative influence on their children, and “make them gay”?
“I can’t possibly be a teacher if I want to be an out lesbian” was the chorus repeating in my mind. Thankfully, my desire to be a teacher was strong enough to counter this chorus with a belief that my sexuality should not play any part in my ability to be a good teacher.
As I went to school to become a teacher, and even in my first two years of teaching, I slowly came out to my peers, colleagues and administrators. I still didn’t feel safe enough to talk about my life partner to my students and their parents. Instead, I allowed them to assume that I was single and straight, answering all questions about my life with evasive statements. I would see pictures of my colleagues’ husbands and wives on their desks or witness them being picked up and randomly meeting students in the parking lot. Making brief mention of a husband or wife flowed freely from their lips without apprehension, fear or even a second thought. Each time I didn’t tell the truth I felt myself become more and more bound by my fear, prompting me to evaluate whether this was the profession for me.
Outside of the school, I was in a loving relationship and with the legalization of gay marriage in Canada in 2005 we decided to get married. What did getting married mean to me? Despite my apprehension and deep-rooted fear of being an “out” teacher, I finally, for the first time in my life, felt confident and empowered to tell the truth … to be myself. I was now married, wearing a ring, recognized by the government of Canada as equal to a heterosexual marriage under the law, and I was not going to lie about my life anymore. I owed it to myself, to my wife, and to my students.
I was asked, “How are you going to tell your students?” I knew that I did not want to make an announcement. I didn’t want to make it a big deal. I wanted to share my life in the same way any one of my colleagues might talk about their partner. I wanted it to simply roll off my tongue. I decided that when/if I was asked whether or not I was married I would tell the truth. In fact, I rehearsed my responses to many questions in order to make sure I got it “right.”
Two and a half months passed without a question. I fell into the same routine I had in previous years. Speaking about my life through my relationships with my friends and my sisters but never once mentioning my wife. Then one day in the middle of November a student asked, “Ms. McNeil, are you married?” There it was. The question I had been waiting for. I could feel my face flush and my heart pound. Was I going to answer it “right”? I responded “yes” and then promptly changed the subject.
“I didn’t know you were married.”
“Who are you married to?”
“What’s his name?”
“When did you get married?”
The only answer I could muster was: “Yes, I am married. Now you only have one hour for your Social Studies so you better get working.”
My face felt hot; my heart was pounding; my hands were shaking. I was allowing the students to believe that I was married to a man and in essence I was lying.
As their teacher, my silence, my inability to be honest was teaching them to be afraid, to be silent themselves. Reminiscent of Elliot Eisner’s (2002a) chapter “The Three Curricula That All Schools Teach” in which Eisner writes about the explicit, implicit and null curriculum, I found myself dancing within and between these spaces. Eisner suggests that there are two major considerations in the null curriculum, “the intellectual processes that schools emphasize and neglect” (p. 98) and “the content or subject areas that are present and absent in school curricula” (p. 98). There is no curriculum guide, especially in the province of Alberta, on how to engage students in topics involving sexual orientation. In fact, in 2009 the Alberta legislature passed Bill 44, which amended the Alberta Human Rights Act, forcing school boards and jurisdictions to provide notice to parents if any program involving religion, human sexuality and sexual orientation is taught in schools. As well, parents are able to make a written request that their child not be exposed to such programs.
What was I teaching my students by letting their assumptions stand? This certainly is not part of the planned curriculum. It became very apparent to me that my original plan was not working. Letting it roll off my tongue, answering questions openly and honestly was actually sending me into a frozen state and the only thing I could do was say, “Yes, I am married.”
The number one reason I became a teacher was because I wanted to make a difference in students’ lives. The reason I needed to tell my students the truth was based on the teacher I strive to be. I needed to face my fear.
I drove to school the next day feeling more gut-wrenching anxiety and anticipation than I have ever felt. First thing in the morning I said to my students, “I have a few things I want to talk about.” I faced my fear and this is what I said:
“One of the reasons I became a teacher is because I want the students I work with to be confident individuals, I want you to believe in yourselves and to always feel like you can be yourself. I want you to stand up for what you believe in and live honestly in the world.
“Having said all this I know that many of you have noticed my ring and have recently discovered that I am married, you have a lot of questions and are quite curious. I wouldn’t be the honest, sincere and confident person I want all of you to be if I continue to let you believe that I am married to a man, because I’m not. I am married to a woman.” ← 24 | 25 →
I said it.
And the student response?
Followed by a few questions and some shocked faces was
I had anticipated the worst that could happen. I even made a list of all the negative repercussions that might follow the moment I was “out” to my students. What I didn’t anticipate was the gratitude from my students for being honest. Or the comments from parents during interviews such as, “I think it is really good you could be honest with them, thank you,” or the fact that I have never felt so free. I no longer look over my shoulder at the grocery store when I am with my wife.
My wife and I are now mothers and as I look back on my experience of becoming an “out” teacher, I could never have become a mom had I not conquered my fear. Each year following that first year was different. It didn’t miraculously make everything easy. I made some assumptions of my own. I believed that if I came out once, I was done. Rather conceited of me now, as if this groundbreaking event in my life would be held with the same significance by anyone who knew of it. Word did travel and for the most part my students knew before they even entered my class. But every year I am still asked either about my husband or my child’s father. Fortunately, the free-flowing roll-off-the-tongue responses that I once longed for actually happen. Eventually, I put a photo of my wife on my desk.
This year I decided to be proactive and in the first week of school my wife and daughter came in for a visit to meet my homeroom class.
No pointed questions.
Each year a new layer of homophobia has been shed. Each year I find myself closer and closer to the teacher I want to be, helping students become the people they want to be.
So, back to Stephanie asking about flying a rainbow flag at Calgary’s city hall during the Olympics. Once again I could feel my face flush almost immediately. I wasn’t certain that this particular group of students all knew I am a lesbian, but I was pretty sure that was why she wanted to know my opinion. The subsequent conversation entailed my “coming out” to some of them, or confirming rumours others had already heard, followed by my monologue (with a teacher’s hat on) about how I realized there are multiple perspectives and I know some people ← 25 | 26 → believe the Olympics needs to be kept separate from politics and human rights. I made it very clear that when we speak about Russia’s stance on gay rights, we need to speak of the Russian government and not Russians in general, as there are many Russians who do not feel the same way. I felt the need to represent all sides fairly. I made sure they knew I understood the complexity of the question posed to them.
I did, however, share with the class that my immediate and instinctual reaction to finding out that our city and several other cities were speaking out against Russia’s anti-gay laws was “YES!!!” I shared a few stories of my own about homophobia I have confronted in my life, in hopes that they would understand why it means so much for our mayor to stand up and say, “It’s the right thing to do” (Dormer, 2014). When I read that line, I immediately thought of Wendell Berry’s words during an interview with Bill Moyers (2013): “We have to ask what is the right thing to do and go ahead and do it and take no thought for the morrow.”
It became clear to me that the students didn’t have enough information to offer an opinion or choose a side. On one hand, I am grateful that teachers are entering these conversations in their classrooms and are not afraid to have open dialogue about controversial topics. On the other hand, I needed to ask what the role of a teacher is when entering this kind of dialogue. Maxine Greene (2001) writes about aesthetic education and while she is speaking about art and literature, I think her words have significance in this encounter too.
Whether we teach the very young or the adult, we obviously have to have some clear idea of what a developed capacity in a particular symbolic medium is like … we have all come to realize the importance of some foundational understanding, some knowledge that can not always be totally specified. The kinds of knowledge that can be made available and feed into what we have called “tacit awareness” clearly have a good deal to do with the stage at which the learners involved arrive. (p. 27)
In this case the medium was a debate, a polarizing conversation about a “controversial topic.” What knowledge did the students need in order to engage in this conversation from an informed place? How are we teachers perpetuating the dominant culture by asking students to weigh in on a controversial issue and choose a side without the capacity to experience the encounter? Debates are provocative, resulting in definite student engagement. I could tell the debate had been heated and had evoked a lot of emotion. But maybe what needed to happen was a focus on listening, understanding and elaboration versus defending one’s position.
The arguments against teaching about sexual orientation in our schools supported by the likes of Bill 44 ring some truth. Gay/straight alliances will absolutely bring forth conversation in the schools. An inclusive curriculum means homosexuality will absolutely be talked about in the classroom, in the same way that heterosexuality already is. Students will be taught that you can fall in love with ← 26 | 27 → anyone regardless of gender; students will learn that their teachers are part of the LGBT community; students will learn that it is possible in our world to be honest and not hide from society with shame and guilt, unable to confront homophobia. Students will learn to be inclusive. Students will feel safe and supported regardless of their sexual orientation.
To the voices that are afraid of homosexual teachers, gay/straight alliances, gay marriage and dialogue about sexuality, … you are right about your children in the schools … and the world will be a better place, because it is the right thing to do.
Transforming according to circumstances, meet all beings as your ancestors.
—HONGZHI ZHENGJUE (1091–1157)
Just spotted a year-old black bear crossing HWY. 66 @ McLean Creek, heading north.
From a distance, struggling at first to resolve its colour and lowness and lopey canter into dog or cat likenesses as it stretched up to the side of the road and across and suddenly slowed into distinctive roundhumpness … bear!
Stopped and watched him amble up the shalysteep creekedge. Wet. Greenglistening. Breath arriving plumey in the damp and cold after days of heat waves … been 33 degrees C. and more for four days running in the foothills of the Rockies west of Calgary. Here, roaming in the edge between prairie and forest, between flatlands and hills and mountains—here, when summers break, they tend to break deeply.
Cold rain. Cold.
It is so thrilling to not be accustomed to this sort of experience, to have it still be so pleasurable. Bear. His presence almost unbelievable, making this whole place waver and tremble, making my assumptions and presumptions and thoughts and tales of experiences in this place suddenly wonderfully irrelevant and so much easier to write because of such irrelevance.
Bear’s making my own fragility and momentariness show.
That is what is most shocking. This unforseeable happenstance of bear’s arrival and my own happiness are oddly linked. This “hap” (Weinsheimer, 1987, pp. 7–8) hovering at the heart of the world.
My own life as serendipitous, despite my earnest plans. Giddy sensation, this.
Like little bellybreath tingles on downarcing childgiggle swingsets.
Felt in the tanden (Sekida, 1976, pp. 18–19, 66–67) in Walking Meditation (Nhat Hanh, 1995).
Breath’s gutty basement. Nearby, the lowest Chakra tingles with an upspine burst to whitesparkle brilliance just overhead and out in front of the forehead.
In moments like this, something flutters open. Shifting fields of relations bloom. Wind stirs nothing. Not just my alertness and sudden attention, but the odd sensation of knowing that these trees, this creek, this bear, are all already alert to me in ways proper to each and despite my attention. Something flutters open, beyond this centered self.
With the presence of this ambly bear, the whole of things arrives, fluttered open.
All Beings are your Ancestors. The feary sight of him, teaching me, reminding me of forgotten shared ancestries, forgotten shared relations to Earth and Air and Fire and Water.
That strange little lesson having to be learned again: that he has been here all along, cleaving this shared ancestry, cleaving this shared Earth of ours, making and forming my life beyond my “wanting and doing,” (Gadamer, 1989, p. xxviii), beyond my wakefulness and beyond my remembering.
It is not so much that this bear is an “other” (Shepard, 1996), but that it is a relative, which is most deeply transformative and alarming to my ecological somnolence and forgetfulness. It is not just that I might come awake and start to remember these deep, Earthy relations.
It is also that, even if I don’t, they all still bear witness to my life.
Relations. Who would have thought? Coming across one of us that I had forgotten.
Coming, therefore, across myself as also one of us. Such a funny thing to be surprised about again. In the face of this Great Alert Being, I, again, become one of us!
Great Alert Being, this bear. Great Teacher. His and my meaty bodies both of the same “flesh of the [Earth]” (Abram, 1997, pp. 66–67 [see Abram & Jardine, 2000, for a later conversation]), rapt in silent conversations (Abram, 1996, p. 49).
Where, my god, have I been? And what have I been saying, betraying myself and my distraction?
This bear ambles in the middle of all its Earthly relations to wind and sky and rain and berries and roadsides and the eons of beings that helped hone that creek edge to just those small pebbly falls under the weight of his paws: ← 29 | 30 →
Even the very tiniest thing, to the extent that it “is,” displays in its act of being the whole web of circuminsessional interpenetration that links all things together. (Nishitani, 1982, p. 150)
The whole Earth conspires to make just these simple events just exactly like this:
“Within each dust mote is vast abundance” (Hongzhi, 1991, p. 14).
This is the odd butterfly effect (Glieck, 1987, p. 17) fluttering in the stomach.
This, too, is the profound co-implication of all beings that is part of ecological mindfulness—that each being is implicated in the whole of things and, if we are able to experience it from the belly, from each being a deep relatedness to all beings can be unfolded, can be understood, can be felt, can be adored, can be praised in prayerful grace, a giving thanks (Snyder, 1990, pp. 175–185). Lovely intermingling of thinking and thanksgiving (Heidegger, 1968).
So the thrill of seeing this bear is, in part, the exhilarating rush felt in seeing it explode outwards, emptying itself into all its relations, and then retracting to just that black bear, now an exquisite still-spot ambling at the center of all things. And more!
The center is everywhere. Each and every thing becomes the center of all things and, in that sense, becomes an absolute center. This is the absolute uniqueness of things, their reality (Nishitani, 1982, p. 146).
Like breath exhaled outwards and then drawn in deep draughts. This inwardness and outwardness of emptiness (Sanskrit: sunya; Japanese: ku)—each thing is its relatedness to all things, reflecting each in each in Indra’s Netted Jewels and yet each thing is always just itself, irreplaceable. Smells of the forests of mid-August and the sweetness of late summer wild flowers. Winey bloomy blush. Intoxicating.
All Beings are your Ancestors.
If we are to meet all beings as our ancestors, we must also meet all those very same beings as our descendants. This odd, fluid, difficult, shifting edge point between the ancestors and the descendants is where our humanity lives.
This is “the empty field” (Hongzhi, 1991) that opens and embraces.
It is also the lifespot of teaching and learning and transmission and transformation.
There are many Great Teachers.
All praise to bear and his subtle gift.
Bragg Creek, Alberta, August 8–10, 1997
Freedom results from understanding how stories construct and constrict my possibilities.
—DAVID LOY (2010, P. 33)
I remember thinking to myself early on in my career that eventually I would feel like I had it all figured out. Now, well into my journey, I am being taught and transformed by what I experience. Some days flow seamlessly and other days I feel like I am just beginning again. With that being said, here is the advice that I would give right now, in this moment, to you, new teacher.
There will be stories that will narrow your ideas, thoughts and choices. They will exist in places of normalcy; part of a larger master story, Loy (2010) explains as “revolving around fear and anxiety” (p. 31). These may be told to you by people in power about the powerless. You will also have your own stories that will encircle pressure on your ideas and pedagogy. Scripted to you over your own experiences of education and prevailing in social and cultural norms. These types of stories are powerful and sneaky, so watch out for them.
There will also be stories that build hope and create understanding. These will occur in glimpses and there will be gaps. You will fail and continue. You will remember an artefact from your past and think about how you have changed as a person and as a teacher. You will embarrass yourself and you will recover from it.
You will say things that you did not mean and you will learn from these.
There will be moments in which you will have ineffable experiences of understanding. Hold onto these moments so that you can identify those feelings again. ← 31 | 32 → These moments occur organically and cannot be forced. Be patient and trust yourself. Your knowledge will continue to be shaped and shifted as you become more familiar and practiced in the place you are.
There will be joy, laughter and tears. You will be incredibly fortunate to spend days with adults and children who will challenge, educate, and enrich your life. They will also be there to offer support when the constricting possibilities arise around you. Know that you are not alone, as Catherine Keller (in Jensen, 1995) reminds us that by “simply existing, we make a difference” (p. 280).
I offer a passage by bell hooks (1994) that found me, before I started my own journey into teaching. It has helped me create my own story and see through others:
Urging all of us to open our minds and hearts so that we can know beyond the boundaries of what is acceptable, so that we can think and rethink, so that we can create new visions, I celebrate teaching that enables transgressions—a movement against and beyond boundaries. It is that movement which makes education the practice of freedom. (p. 12).
The excerpts below are from David Jardine’s (2013b) article “Time Is [Not] Always Running Out,” published in the Journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Curriculum Studies:
With lights lowed, we all lean inwards in this circle of storytelling, and its arc goes far beyond just those gathered here. This wider feel of textured fabric is also a nebulous part of the story told:
Next to the hearth, by the bedside, on the back porch, round the cracker barrel, in the lap. Mouth to ear, mouth to ear, over and over and over again, grandmother and grandfather, uncle and aunt, mother and father, nanny and nurse were in turn listener and teller. (Yolen, 1988, p. 12)
Migratory arcs come back round again. This temporal fabric is recurrent and intergenerational—an odd experience of going somewhere new and returning to somewhere old at the same time, and coming to (re)inhabit a place already inhabited.
These tales could be a short as the English ghost story reported by the venerable English collector Katharine Briggs: He woke up frightened and reached for the matches, and the matches were put into his hand. (Yolen, 1988, p. 2)
(JARDINE, 2013b, P. 2)
A few weeks ago, media chatter condemning “new” math as fuzzy and ridiculous and calling for a return to memorization-driven pedagogy rose to a pitch that I found impossible to ignore. I waited and listened, hoping for a thoughtfully ← 33 | 34 → articulated clarification of the inquiry-based approach to perforate the constant criticism. None came. Finally, feeling quite literally compelled to offer a “voice of reason,” I published a blog. I described the “new” approach to math from a teaching perspective and tried to qualify the difference between memorable and memorizable mathematics. I explained how thrilling it had been to watch my students come astonishingly alive with the opportunity to think and question in mathematics. I urged that proponents of “memorizing math facts” consider children to be equally worthy of more beautiful, complex learning opportunities and that these need not preclude computational proficiency. I tried to negate recent media reports that children were being “experimented on” with this “new” math curriculum and were being left with no understanding, no “skills,” and no “ability.”
It sounds ridiculous in hindsight, but although I had ultimately written a rebuttal of the dominant discourse, I didn’t anticipate a negative backlash. The first angry accusation was a blow, and I found myself bewilderingly on the defense, backtracking and double-checking what I had written, struggling to maintain thoughtful ground. It was a diffcult and disconcerting couple of days, a bit like trying to play chess with someone who kept knocking the pieces over and pretending it was part of the game. I was fighting for something the “other side” seemed determined not to comprehend. Struggling to regain my footing in a space that felt suddenly hostile I lay awake most nights, planning my next point and mentally reviewing my defense. It was exhausting.
I arrived in class on Tuesday frustrated, angry and eager to commiserate with classmates. Instead, we began with Don Domanski (2013):
here deep in the forest in the stillness of ecocide
in the quietude between spruce trees when absence redeems you
when the world is rising and leaving
when you’ve forgotten your name
forgotten the wistful knot of air that is your spirit
that’s when the ancients say you’ll reach the bottom of things
and start upwards again (p. 91)
The inexplicable sense of comfort was so relieving I was almost in tears.
The space was transformed.
Domanski was followed by Joseph Campbell in conversation with Bill Moyers (Permutter & Konner, 2002). We were struck by Campbell’s patience as he countered Moyers’s pragmatic attempts at making myth “relatable” for the general public, his considerate refusal to articulate ancient mythological ideas “on the grounds of the other.” ← 34 | 35 →
David said: “There’s this surface story, and we get caught—banging back and forth in that … but there’s another way this world can be experienced” (lecture notes, March 2014).
Then Wendell Berry (2000) arrived: “The fallibility of a human system of thought is always the result of incompleteness. In order to include some things, we invariably exclude others. We can’t include everything because we don’t know everything; we can’t comprehend what comprehends us” (p. 34).
mid–14c., from Latin comprehendere “to take together, to catch hold of; to seize.” (n.d.)
David: “We can’t catch a hold of what catches a hold of us. The question, then, is how do we prevent ‘it’ from catching a hold of us? … It’s why I left the room. I need to take care of the spot that can stay composed” (lecture notes, March 2014).
The conversation reverberated and I began to recognize my story in the story. To find my footing.
The second half of the class brought David Suzuki and Thich Nhat Hanh in conversation with Suzuki Foundation chair Jim Hoggan (Hoggan Public Relations, 2011). As we contemplated their interchange, I recognized myself in Suzuki, up in arms because “what the public doesn’t think is a problem, is a problem.”
Thich Nhat Hanh spoke to Suzuki about the environment, and he spoke to me about teaching:
This civilization will be destroyed. It has already happened in the past. We have to accept this as it is. Acceptance like that can bring us peace. And with that peace we have force. To meditate, to look deeply, to gain insight … and with that insight you are free—from despair, from anger—and a better worker for the environment. [me: for children] (Hoggan Public Relations, 2011)
As Thich Nhat Hanh spoke, he radiated composure, not because it was going to be okay, or because anyone was going to “solve the problem,” but because probably no one was going to solve the problem, and it was going to be okay.
Walking into class on Tuesday I had felt as though I was barely holding on. The argument I didn’t mean to start had drawn me into a surface exchange filled with anger and frustration and despair. Our “storytelling” community handed that conversation back on a deeper, more authentic plane. The added presence of multiple echoing voices of scholars practiced in relating to the real collectively conspired to return my thinking to a place of composure, patience and calm. ← 35 | 36 →
As the class wound down, I mentioned that I felt as though it had been all been for me. There had been something familiar in all of the conversations, something that seemed to recognize my struggle and was present to help.
“That’s why this class is a refuge,” David said, “that’s how the world is supposed to feel. You’re supposed to run into your best friend, and know that the universe is all okay” (lecture notes, March 2014).
[I] woke up frightened and reached for the matches, and the matches were put into [my] hand. (Yolen, 1988, p. 2)
There is without a doubt a fabric to this world and I am finding myself in it. Thank you.
FINDING MYSELF IN THE MEASURE OF THINGS: INTRODUCTION TO “A MODERN HUNTING TRADITION”
My inspiration for “A Modern Hunting Tradition” came in the form of a quote by David Smith (2014), who wrote that:
Furthermore, some things reveal themselves on their own terms, when they are ready, not simply under the duress of a formal curriculum requirement at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday. This is now well understood in the realm of ecology, for example, and the study of (so-called) wildlife. The best way to see animals in their natural habitat is simply to sit still; then the animals will come out of hiding and show themselves. (p. 82)
I wanted to be reminded of what it feels like to sit still, to notice, to remember the more-than-human world (Abram, 1997). In conversations with colleagues, friends and students, I have come to notice that growing up “in the bush” is, for a growing number of humans, a story of foreign lands. Places like Rock Island Lake, the fishing camp that my parents operated where I spent my first five summers; Fox Farm Road, the log cabin on the mountainside; Paradise Lake; and Nicola Lake—these are my places, where I feel at home. Joe Sheridan and Dan “He Who Clears the Sky” Longboat (2006) explain that “settler culture” (Western society) has not yet “naturalized” to the land, in that it has yet to create myths that respect the possibilities of this place (p. 366). Finding myself at home in the bush, not the forest that “to most settlers remains a dark and evil spirit in need of exorcism or destruction” ← 37 | 38 → (Sheridan, 2001, p. 196), but the stomping-hunting-fire-building-silent bush of bushmen and bushwomen, means finding myself in a place that requires something of me … for my (earthly) survival.
I am mindful that “forgetting the animals leads to the animals forgetting about us” (Sheridan & Longboat, 2006, p. 377). Similarly, when I think of traditions passed down from elders to youth, I consider how they are constantly renewed in the attention given to them by each new generation. As youth coming into traditions, I hope that we may try to challenge and question everything that has been handed down to us, while our elders may wait patiently for us to sort things out, sometimes pushing back, other times conceding, always listening. If a balance is achieved, we find our tradition constantly renewed in the measure of things. What possibilities arise when we learn to walk softly, to entice the animals out of hiding, to spot cougar tracks in the snow? What does it mean, pedagogically, for our actions to find their proper measure (Gadamer, 2004, p. 251), and thus, their consequences (Jardine, 2008b, p. 4) in these wild places and elder traditions that story us? Our human isolation from the earthly landscape is a precarious ignorance. David Abram (1997) says, “We still need that which is other than ourselves and our own creations … we are human only in contact, and conviviality, with what is not human” (p. ix).
An earthly tradition.
A MODERN HUNTING TRADITION
My father, Vern, is the hunter. My mother, Lorna is the cook
Traditional. Cozy. Comfortable
Predictable and grounded, stewed in the crock pot
Savoury, only slightly spicy, unless I get my hands on it
I like my stews the new-fashioned way,
Just a little more exotic
I am a strong, capable woman well-marinated in this tradition
People who know me well half expect me to be a hunter—
Even if only because it challenges my gender role
But I am not a hunter. Well, not anymore.
I learned how to shoot a ’22 at the age of twelve,
and I once killed a grouse by stoning it to death
It was a loud and grisly scene, with me leading a wild pack of elementary-aged children across the barnyard and into the pine trees, hooting and screaming as we tortured and murdered that grouse.
The moment that cracked me was when it was lying on the ground, unable to move, yet still breathing, eyes half-closed. I knew that as the instigator, I had to take responsibility for what I had done. I killed it with the final stone. We left that grouse in the woods and we never told my parents.
We never spoke of that day again.
We knew that we had dishonoured the two codes that our hunting family lived by:
1. Do not cause unnecessary suffering.
2. Do not waste one ounce of a life given for your sustenance.
I can walk quietly in the woods. I can identify edible berries and see the signs of danger and promise in the earth. I can smell a campfire a kilometer away, tell time by the sun, and mark a path to return by. I know how to remove a tick embedded in my scalp, and I can build a shelter to keep the night away.
I know how to tie a fly and catch a fish. I can gut a fish and help skin a deer. I know how to pluck a chicken and use every last piece of its flesh and bones for a week of meals.
But I usually leave the killing to others.
Unless I was truly starving, of course, then I would do what I had to do.
I respect it. The killing.
I can observe it. I can participate in the ritual with sadness and gratitude.
But holding a warm animal, a squirming fish, in my hand as the final after-beat of life drains slowly from its body, is too much for me.
Yes, I am known as “the emotional one” in my family. What of it? Would you rather I be cold, dead-living? Let a gal cry!
So I participate in our family’s modern-day hunting ritual. My husband, Jason, is not a hunter, either, but my young daughters are showing interest and I hope that their grandfather will take them one day. Grandpa Vern, achy-old and curling up at the fingers like his father did before him, but strong and bush-humping along, beautiful-functional, still has so many things to teach them and learn from them, us. Jason is the “professional venison transportation agent” (a.k.a. a healthy, young ← 39 | 40 → and strong body which happens to be willing and to live down the road from his father-in-law) and because he helps pack the kill, our freezer is stocked and re-stocked with moose, deer—and salmon, huckleberries and mushrooms—each fall.
Every fall, we wait for the call.
“Ya, I got a moose. He’s a big old guy this time, should be good eating though, not too tough. No, he’s not too far into the bush, only a couple hundred metres over a little ridge.” In Vern-speak, that is about 3 kilometres scrambling over rocky shale, wading through a creek and climbing rope-assisted up a small mountainside.
Vern is no road hunter. To the authentic bushmen of the Nicola Valley, that’s almost like cheating. Unless, of course, you were truly starving, then you would take what you could get where it stood.
So, we plan the picnic. These days, we ask, “Is this a kid-friendly moose-packing trip?” And we pack up the snowsuits, hot chocolate, toilet paper, extra socks, snacks, the until-the-next-snack snacks, sleds, campfire kettle, and a full change of clothes for each child, “just in case.” It is a little more complicated than it used to be when you’d grab a sandwich and an apple and march off into the bush with your matches, knife and packboard. The bush has taught me what it means to be prepared—if you have the room in your truck, bring it because you never know when you might need it. If you don’t have the room, hope for good weather.
The men march out. Vern loves his grandchildren and would sit for hours with them on an anthill talking about ants and clouds and how to braid wild grasses into a wreath to wrap around their curly-top heads, but, “Son, we are wasting daylight. You women can see the trail, it starts right here. We’ll meet you there in a few.” Usually our fit, happy, childlike-wise mom-grandmother Lorna wants to stay at the truck and build a fire. She likes to sit and visit and drink tea, then go for a little exercise-walk. But she knows me better than that—sigh, she knows—I need action, I need to help with the man-woman work, and without uttering a word, she starts to pack up the lunch and the little ones for our snow-trek in the man-tracks out over the hills to the hanging moose. There are some cougar pawprints right there, but they are not fresh, so we keep the dogs close and walk tall and loud. We wonder if the cougar got any of the meat, but Vern knows to hang it high in the trees out of reach, so we expect that it will be waiting there for us. We haul our babies in the sled to the kill tree, and this time it is only about a half-hour hike. Grandpa Vern wasn’t exaggerating for once. When we arrive, the ritual has just begun. The skinning knife is scritch-scratch, scritch-scratching against the steel, and the tiny wisps of new campfire smoke are trailing up into the fir boughs above. ← 40 | 41 → Gloves off, jackets put aside. We scatter to find larger pieces of wood as the little ones crouch over Jason’s fire-building shoulder, helping.
The skinning. The anatomy lesson. The hide falling away. The familiarity of a human-moose body unveiled of its coat. The tendons, joints, muscles, hair. Bled, cold. Tongue, eyes, guts, heart.
Vern takes his hunkering place at the fire. “Wanna bite of moose heart?” As he slaps his stick-roasted slice into the middle of his cheese sandwich. Vern does the roasting for the little ones. They watch, eyes flame-shiny, as it browns and sizzles. He pulls it off the roasting stick and gently breaks it in two and hands it over. They sit on their kid-log in quiet reverence as the first mouthful satisfies their well-earned gnawing autumn hiking-hunger.
Sometimes I prefer not to be there, because I’d rather after-hear my home-safe, sweaty husband tell the laughing-horror tale of how he almost slipped and fell off a cliff under the weight of a 100-lb moose head. Yes, a moose’s head alone can weigh 100 pounds. Imagine the rest of it. Five, sometimes six pieces if he is a big old Mr. Moose, sawed apart and sheathed in their white cheesecloth bag to keep them from getting dirty. Sometimes if you get a good hill, you can be a little bit crazy impractical and hop on to the moose-laden packboard, but be careful of hidden stumps and flailing hooves. When the terrain is right, and he can avoid strapping himself into the packboard under a hundred and fifty pounds of moose, Jason will do it the new-fashioned way—winding through the scrawny birch trees, dashing ahead of an out-of-control hindquarter as it plummets down the snowy mountainside. Vern shakes his head, and keeps plodding under his burden. We walk ahead and wait for him at the truck. When Grandpa bursts out of the trees a few minutes later, screaming, “Look out! Moose meat on the loose!” we laugh as we dive into the snowbanks. You can, in fact, teach an old dog new tricks. The question is, do you want to?
My daughter saw her first dead animal hanging in my father’s shed when she was two years old.
She called it “deer parts.”
And it bothered her much less than the disembodied deer head trophy that my dad displays in his office.
That says something, now doesn’t it?
Mostly, it says to never to put dead animal heads on display in my house
I witness the trophy tradition
desecrated by sport hunters who have never eaten their kill
and maligned by activists who have never killed their food
But for my dad it is not a trophy
It is a single body of worship
Of participation in the world
A world that demands our respect
At one time, if our ancestors refused to respect
they would perish—remember that now
It’s all one time
Our prey is watching over us
Every time I make a sandwich for a hike in the bush, or help haul a deer, or cook a moose roast, I remember that grouse
That grouse suffered, yes I regret
But it did not go to waste
A coyote dragged it off, cleaned it down to bones and remnants
Some birds picked at the remains, and others used its feathers for a nest
The worms fed off the tiny, dark stain
I, too, will be sustained by the grouse
It will remind me of what I am
What am I, in the terrible and fragile?
I will be as noble as the worm
I will not waste that grouse’s life
What am I, in the terrible and fragile?
Our prey is watching over us.
—JODI LATREMOUILLE, “A MODERN HUNTING TRADITION” (SEE CHAPTER 10)
The general patterns and shapes of the social world are part of our labour to understand and interpret, for ourselves and for and with our students. Such is a great part of Social Studies. Research into such grand patterns and shapes is a vital part of coming to know ourselves and how our lives have turned out thus and so. But there is another labour that is often occluded by such research, and this other labour is sometimes misunderstood.
The social life for which Social Studies is meant to provide an articulation is actually lived out in locales of great intimacy, particularity and grace. Families, practices, languages, roles both inherited and resisted, times, places, heartbreaks and joys, geographies known through the body and breath and the labor of hands, and, too, great arcs of reminiscence, ancestry, old ways barely recollected or inscribed in practices learned hand over hand, face-to-face, full of forgotten-ness. To be properly understood and articulated, these locales of intimacy don’t lend themselves to forms of research that demand generalities or methodological anonymity as is proper to various social sciences. They demand a form of research that is proper to the object of its concern—an old Aristotelian idea that knowledge must “remain something adapted to the object, a mensuratio ad rem” (Gadamer, 1989, p. 261).
This wonderful piece of writing by Jodi Latremouille, “A Modern Hunting Tradition,”(see Chapter 10), is a strong and elegant example of remaining true to such ← 43 | 44 → measures. It is an example of how writing itself is a powerful, difficult and rigorous form of research (Richardson, 1994; Richardson & St. Pierre, 2005). It shows how a careful and poetic reflection on one’s life can reveal truths about our living, and how such “life writing” (Chambers, Hasebe-Ludt, Leggo, & Sinner, 2012) stands firmly in the phenomenological and hermeneutic traditions of inquiry.
I mention all this because Jodi shared with me an e-mail she received from her father after she sent him an early version of this piece, and it points to something vital to the power of this writing. Included in brackets are Jodi’s comments on how her writing was edited in response:
Enjoyed your writing, not sure if you need accuracy but if you do:
I never skid anything in the Cheesecloth Game bags, they are only when we put them on the packboard.
[I had originally written that my husband skids a piece of moose down the hill in the game bag. Edited as per this e-mail]
Small moose in five pieces, big one in six with the head attached to the neck making it a pretty good load as J. will attest. Ha Ha.
[I had originally written 3 pieces, 5 if very large. Edited as per this e-mail]
Vital to the power of this writing is, again, that it must find its proper measure in the things that are its subject. I have found this, myself, in pursuing such writing, that it is not flimsy or subjective or random, but needs a terrible accuracy. Otherwise the whole thing deflates and becomes nothing but a self-referential, overly personal reminiscence. It loses its beckoning. Here, in this writing, we have profoundly personal reminiscence, but it is cast out into the world and its ways. This is why it is so effective for me as a reader. It is careful in its heeding of the life-world in all its meticulous detail. Part of its power to address us is in this accuracy. Without it, it betrays its object and betrays its own weakness. This is why, in heeding the demands of accuracy, such writing is legitimately deemed research and why and how such work should form part of the work of Social Studies in our schools.
So, in appreciation, I want to betray my age and what struck me most in Jodi’s writing, that the lives of these Great Beings should not be wasted, and that, in understanding this, we understand something of ourselves and our own frail passings. Our lives, too, should not be wasted.
I end, therefore, with a wee bit more of that e-mail which betrays, as does Jodi’s work, a great and trembling intimacy in the hunt:
So far nothing to pack or skid yet this fall. Been close to two three point Bull Moose and got within 50 feet of a bedded Bull and cow. [The] bull … was up and gone before we could shoot, a big guy. The cow walked to within 30 feet of us. Mixed feelings on chasing a big productive guy like that this late in the season, could be tough. Probably leave him for another year and try for him early. He’s probably getting old like me anyway and past his prime so will give him this last hurrah before we meet.
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself
I am large, I contain multitudes.
First, Google Wendell Berry, listen, watch, think.
I still remember when I had it all figured out. When I knew what I was doing, and everything seemed so easy.
I remember when it all fell apart, those damn kids seemed to always get in the way.
I remember when I thought there was a difference between the two, that somehow I could get back to knowing. That it was possible to “teach the right way,” to master the craft.
For me, my turning point, the moment where the weight of a thousand young lives was lifted came with a simple revelation, nothing’s innocent, and hence nothing’s not.
There are ways of being with children that honour the humanity of each child, the connectedness of the world, that tap into wisdom and feed the soul.
And sometimes these ways will be wrong.
There are ways that don’t, that focus on efficiency and control, on power and jumping through hoops.
And sometimes these ways are necessary
Teaching isn’t about doing things right, it’s doing what’s right, and I think that’s a more accommodating space. Some days you can be too organized and structured, and that’s okay, as long as it’s not every day. Other days chaos will reign and there’s something to be learned in that space, just not everything. The work isn’t about keeping the train on the tracks but instead keeping the boat between the shores.
I struggled in my first year, in my last year, likely in my next year. I’ve found that when the stress of the day begins to overwhelm me, when external forces bear down, and my own inadequacies seem impossible to evade. I go outside, to supervise, to watch, to try and find peace. Outside, life is inescapable. The joy of children at play, the sounds of friendship, games and discovery flourish. Here joy is infectious, here the stress feels more manageable, the hurdles less daunting and the sharpness of my imperfections dull.
I realize that in this garden weeds grow, hidden amongst the games. I remain acutely aware that moments of unkindness, bullying, anger and resentment all lurk. That my own practices bear the scars of external blows, and my own imperfections. If I leave these weeds untended they will overrun the garden, they will destroy all the beauty and they cannot be ignored in a naive attempt to see only hope. Now when being in the garden it is my awareness, and attention to, the weeds that ensure that the garden can grow. But this attention must be careful, must not linger, the focus remains the garden itself, in its wholeness in all that it offers; otherwise, what reason would I have to tend it?
So if I can offer one piece of advice it’s a more gentle accountability. This work requires you to be present, and honest, but also forgiving, of yourself and of them. Hold yourself up to a standard, not a simplistic measure of right and wrong, but one much more grand and forgiving, a standard of humanity.
Have I done right by kids today?
And if this fails, Google Wendell Berry again.
a silent invitation to slow my stride.
No reason to stop for unaccountable time lacking proof of productivity,
wasteful passing of dashes on my watch
but I do.
Slow my breath as thoughts transmute.
The rush diminishes, eliminating the static cacophony.
Swiftly harmonious, the liquid melody at the base of the ridge,
the swishing sway of the blades.
From the branch, a staccato call.
An alarm, allowing awareness to acknowledge the adjustment.
I am recalibrated.
I have suggested that what seems urgent for us at this time in understanding what teaching more truly is, to undertake to reorient ourselves so that we overcome mere correctness so that we can see and hear our doings as teachers harbored within pedagogical being, so we can see and hear who we are as teachers.
—AOKI (2005, P. 197)
I knew his supervision days by heart. Tuesday and Thursday recess and Monday lunch. I counted down to those days as they meant a chance to wander the playground, a chance to hold his hand and be involved in a very personal conversation. I remember that hand. Slim and strong and always willing to be held or be placed on our shoulder. That hand comforted me in moments of sadness and congratulated me in moments of elation. It would provide high fives when difficult solutions were deduced and yet could instill a deep respect when wrong had been done. But it is the hand-holding at recess that I miss. He was able to make that time feel like my time. My time to ask questions, to tell him about my life and to feel important. Here was man possessed of strength and kindness. A man who found a way to make this classroom magical and full of wonder.
- XV, 265
- ISBN (PDF)
- ISBN (ePUB)
- ISBN (MOBI)
- ISBN (Book)
- Publication date
- 2016 (July)
- New York, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. XV, 265 pp.