- Nov 2017
The native people of the North claim the right to educate their children.
In “The Claim to Native Control of Education", Berger refers to the fundamental ideological differences between Aboriginal people and Euro-Canadian settlers. For Aboriginal peoples, learning was seen as a lived experience best absorbed through storytelling, group discussions, role modeling, personal reflection, peer tutoring, learning/talking circles, and hands-on experiences (Preston et al., 8). Family members taught children everything they needed to know within the context of purposeful, daily activities and adults expected the very best from each child. Adults knew each child’s unique strengths, interests, and learning needs and tailored that to all aspects of their development. This child-centered education, ensured that native people created “able human beings” who could survive and thrive in their environment (McGregor, 58).
From the late 1800s until the 1950s, Euro-Canadian settler missionaries drastically disrupted these Aboriginal ways of learning. The two primary objectives of residential school systems were to “remove and isolate children from the influence of their homes, families, traditions and cultures, and to assimilate them into the dominant culture” (Paquette and Gérald, 3). Residential schools intentionally discounted for Aboriginal culture and values based on the assumption that aboriginal cultures and beliefs were inferior. All instruction was taught in English and children were punished for speaking their native languages (McGregor, 58). Aboriginal pedagogy endorsed student control over the pace of classroom conversations, and allowed for student opportunities for self-determination. However, typical assessment mechanisms employed within Euro-Canadian public education included formative test-taking measures, standardized tests, written evaluations, teacher-centered feedback and the provision of formal grades/percentages. This type of curricular approach to assessment is ill-matched with Aboriginal ways of knowing and learning and Aboriginal children suffered as a result.
Those who designed residential school education did so with the unquestioning acceptance that its rightful goal was to ‘re-educate’ Aboriginal students to ‘encapsulate hierarchically’ First Nation people to not think or reach beyond the lowest position in the social system (Paquette and Gérald, 5). Aboriginal peoples were regarded as “intellectually inferior” and therefore “needed to be inducted into the knowledge base and lifestyle appropriate for the ‘working farmer’ or ‘mechanic’” (Paquette and Gérald, 5). This left Aboriginal people in a difficult position. On the one hand, native people have been told that education is the key to their future, and that such programs will better the social and environmental conditions in their communities. Yet on the other hand, the vast majority of these programs focused on the learning needs of Euro-Canadian students, ultimately leaving Aboriginal students with little understanding of how to apply what they have learned to the situations they face in their communities.
In the early 1970s, the emerging Northwest Territory government issued new curricular expectations for Aboriginal students (McGregor, 60). The purpose of this culturally responsive educational reform was to create education based approaches that resonated with the type of learning students received from their families and in their communities. Fundamental elements of this educational approach came from culturally relevant learning, which is described by Ladson Billings as helping “students accept and affirm their cultural identity, while developing critical perspectives that [enable them] to challenge inequities that schools…perpetuate” (McGregor, 60). It clearly departed from assimilationist federal schooling practices by expecting culturally responsive approaches that emphasized Aboriginal students’ languages and cultures and each student’s personal strengths (McGregor, 62).
McGregor, Catherine A. 2015. "Creating Able Human Beings: Social Studies Curriculum in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, 1969 to the Present." Historical Studies in Education 27, no. 1: 57-79.
Paquette, Jerald E., and Gérald, Fallon. 2010. First Nations Education Policy in Canada: Progress or Gridlock? Toronto: University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division, 2010. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed November 27, 2017).
Preston, Jane P., Michael Cottrell, Terrance R. Pelletier, and Joseph V. Pearce. 2012. "Aboriginal early childhood education in Canada: Issues of context." Journal of Early Childhood Research 10, no. 1: 3-1.