Transformative Educational Leadership Journal, ISSUE: May 2017 | TELjournal.ca
When I first set out on this journey, my focus was on decolonizing our learning space and my own practices as an educator. This involved seeking ways of exploring ‘reconciliation as an inclusive process’. Read on to see how we meaningfully explore important questions such as those around ‘the deeper meanings in our life experiences’.
Hello, I work here, in Mt. Currie on the Traditional Territory of the Lil’wat and St’at’imc peoples. With two other staff and 21 students we continue to dream into existence a ‘new world’ (pun intended) of learning that is accepting, inspiring and de-colonizing. For me, this is something that is guided by an awareness of critical intention.
Now.... My favourite animal is the frog, a creature known to be capable of not only inhabiting, but thriving in two worlds: that of land and water or in a deeper sentiment, the living world and the spirit world. For better and also arguably for the worse, I have always tried to inhabit these multiple worlds, straddling realms of the physical: urban/rural, educator/social worker and the metaphysical; teacher/learner, pragmatic idealism or romantic nihilistic skepticism.
When I was 18 during a bout of romantic idealism I spent 3 months volunteering on a project in Central America. It was here where I first came face to face with the question of ‘intention’ as my ego received a proverbial kick in the pants, my world was shaken and I become oh so aware of something........ now I wasn’t quite sure what it was, but it was somewhere between supreme insignificance and the supremacy of the seemingly insignificant... I came to grips with the fact that I knew absolutely nothing.
In one of those rare, special moments when you read something that feels as though it was written to slap you in the face. I was given a copy of Ivan Illich’s 1968 speech “To Hell with Good Intentions”. In 2500 words he deconstructed the whole genre of western charitable intentions rooted in European colonial attitudes and subversive presumptions of power and supremacy. And I nearly got on a plane and went home....
What I began to understand then, and have been mentally chewing on ever since, is that it is all about ‘intention’..... but yet, good intentions are are not enough. So much so that they can be very dangerous and oppressive.
Now I am uniquely positioned as a 21st Century teacher, with the power to be a participant in incremental change. But I am also a participant in an institution that has and can still be a perpetrator of covert and overt colonialism.
And knowing this, what is an educator, a ‘shammat’ (or outsider) like me to do? How do I as an individual and we as the collective community participate in making reconciliation an inclusive process? Break out of the trap of ‘good and therefore limited intentions’ that only serve to perpetuate a cycle of ‘othering' Aboriginal ways of knowing.
When I started this job, I walked in with my eyes 3/4 open and intentions best described as a cross between apprehension and tempered zeal. I knew in advance that my world views would be challenged, scrambled and probably realigned into new patterns. I entered aware of my precarious positioning as a random white guy trying to de-colonize education and re-inspire marginalized learners from a community and culture of which I knew almost nothing ...... But that was only the beginning:
What I have come to learn since is that I needed to completely re-learn what it means to be an educator. And this can’t just happen once or twice, but every single day:
That circle is not just a fun activity we do before lunch, but the central theme we must structure our entire program around.
That unconditional acceptance is not just fun to say, but is also the start and end and restart of everything I do. Because for us, literacy building is more about relationship building than anything else.
That to break down barriers, that also means creating an understanding of boundaries that are limited, flexible and individualized. Choose restorative over punitive.
That going slower to go faster is actually a thing, and a force multiplier.
That participation in the everyday ceremony of experience, culture and community is extremely important in increasing student engagement.
And that I am a cog in a complex system consisting of parents, families, social workers, doctors, Aboriginal Supporter Worker, counsellors, constables and much more, that must, but often don’t communicate with one another.
That we need to get over our disengaging and destructive fetish on ‘helping’ and instead direct our intentions inward toward personal reflection and outward toward a shared learning and understanding.
This means continuing the process of ‘de-schooling’ myself, so my students, co-workers and I, can continue to dream into existence something new, something exciting, that doesn’t sink of good intentions, but rather thrives from a view that we are all going to make it somewhere amazing together.