Turning Back the Pages – Part 1: Negotiating a Curriculum for Diversity and Peace

2013-08-18 09.13.55

But let us not talk of facts.  No one cares about facts anymore.  They are mere points of departure for speculation and exercises in creativity.  In school we are taught Doubt, and the Art of Forgetting—especially forgetting all that is personal and local. (Borges, 1998, p.461)

Beginning Again

After a recent read through of my thesis published in 2005 and in light of current professional and personal developments, I have divided this post into two parts.  Specifically, my thoughts in the thesis conclusion were open for future revisions and so, for the purpose of placing them here I think it best to look at what I now think of curriculum for diversity and peace.  There are many parts I still find relevant and some that have changed through the course of time but one idea remains true. From rereading my research, I reaffirm my notion that finding once-and for-all-time ways to end discrimination becomes an impossible task.

As a Teacher Researcher, I cannot begin to construct a fixed curriculum of diversity and peace for all.  If “curriculum is all the experiences that learners have in the course of living” (Marsh & Willis, 2003, p.9), then queries about Diversity and Peace Curriculum like Life, are in constant motion.  I cannot locate answers to these two mysteries because they will always elude my grasp.

My childhood stories (some shared in this blog) negotiate my early experiences with difference. As a child, I felt confused about the colour of my skin and the expected role in society I thought I had to play.  As I grew, I became more interested in my physical exterior and its meaning for others.  I read more to understand why people treated me differently.  I searched for others like me walking the same path.  In University, I studied theories to grasp the reasons for my experiences of difference.  At a certain point, the urge to know subsided.  I just wanted to fit in.

I suppose now what is most important is the awareness that no one ever fits in no matter what act of self-exploration one does or how ardently one tries; constructing or determining an absolute identity will always be elusive.  As Slattery (1995) writes “I understand and affirm the postmodern rejection of metanarratives, for I am constantly amazed that the absolute certainty of the ‘truths’ that have been concretized into facts in schooling have all deconstructed over time” (p.263).  I can continually learn to see identity in motion and to be open to its fluid possibilities.

In addition, I further understand that dualities of minority versus majority, teacher versus student, in fact any self versus other—cannot be assumed to be the only way of living amongst others.  “Dualistic thinking must be vigorously challenged…apparent opposites must be reintegrated into a creative tension of complementary and multifaceted dimensions of the whole…” (Slattery, 1995, p.263-64).  I cannot just focus on self and other through observing differences or similarities.  I must acknowledge self and other, negotiating the two as part and parcel of each other.

As an educator, I gather that bridging self and other can occur when I exchange stories.  My stories and their resonances become part of learning to know more about my teacher self embedded within my multiplicity of self: “…what students come to understand, believe, and practice as teachers is largely shaped both by the murmured stories they’ve heard over their years of experience as students in schools and as members of our culture” (Wilson & Ritchie, 1994, p.178).

I further learn to theorize and personalize issues of diversity as they continually shape myself.  As Slattery (1995) writes, “The knower cannot be separated from the known and meaning cannot be separated from the context that gives rise to the meaningful experience.  Educators must (re)envision their relationships with students and with each other and begin to find ways to affirm and validate every voice in the school community” (p.264).   To teach diversity for all is tolearn more about its presence within my current state of mind.

In the classroom, I willingly share some of my stories of difference with students.  I further welcome their stories.  In this exchange, I envision classroom curriculum to be more than just simply transferring information from teacher to student, from self to other.  Curriculums of diversity and peace need to continually provide space for storied negotiations.  As Slattery (1995) says “a ‘quantum curriculum’ (Bernard & Slattery, 1992) is needed to uncover the layers of meaning of the phenomena that could enrich our lives and our schooling practices” (p.264).

Often, our students are subjected to curricula constructed by hegemonic interests represented by the cultural majority. They are often unable to identify where they fit in because their own experiences are not reflected in the classroom.  If curricula are designed or taught conditionally in the school then students know not where they belong, but rather who they belong to.  Curriculum development begins with being open to the concept of exchange.

And so, exchanging stories with others including my students, fellow educators and curriculum-makers has helped me to understand what it possibly means to be a teacher in the current day classroom.  I continually learn that any single definition of a person is non-existent because the diversity of people transcends all boundaries of culture, shades of colour, and walks (flights) of life.  Phillion (2001) writes, “ I was intrigued by the idea that people would share stories of their experiences as research.  After all, wasn’t this what it was like for me as a teacher in the school?…I learned from this sharing.  We developed relationships through this sharing (p.8).  If we can agree that multiplicities of difference strengthen our classroom tapestry then maybe we can move past the need to categorize.  Singular cultural categories—race, ethnicity, inter-race, cross-culture, bi-race,  half this, a quarter of that—need to become less stringent, less invisible over time.

As our acceptances of difference grow and as families develop and cross numerous cultural boundaries, then labeling people will become tedious at best.

For me, inclusive practices can begin from mapping internal perspectives, the voices of self.  I tell stories hoping to be accepted.  I listened to your stories learning more about your identity and offering acceptance.  By communicating, we can build spaces to negotiate our differences as well as our similarities.

We can learn (to teach) acceptance.  We can learn (to teach) negotiation.  We can learn (to teach) trust.

My teaching life is a layered story.  It recounts past experiences and weaves them into current beliefs and practices that shape the tapestry of my teacher identity.  Lived history and lived experience are the seams of my classroom practice and my research work.  I then display my tapestry wholeheartedly.  I do so to remind myself where I have been and where I am headed.  My tapestry both tells me to teach and demands that I learn.   O’ Connell Rust (1999) writes “Each of them [students] had a story” (p.371).  This story I choose to tell, never ends.

Stories and storytelling offer development and change within ourselves for our students.  In addition, the idea of a classroom as social space suggests that a teacher functions on and within diverse landscapes of culture, society and identity.  If so, and I believe it is then teachers must be conscious and conscientious of how to negotiate each student.  We must be able to facilitate classroom learning with the awareness that in providing a curriculum a teacher must also accommodate the diversities of experience within our classes.

Often when I speak with teacher colleagues or read the newspaper or hear debates about curriculum, I rarely sense that our political leaders trust teachers to know their classrooms.  With every change of government I wonder what happens to the changes from before.  Who, ultimately, carries the burden of these changes?  How do we implement “a socially and culturally oriented concept of development that can be sustained from within recognizing the human resources in context and reinforcing and maximizing their contribution and their own sense of worth and dignity” (Deng, 1986, p.107)?   Who knows how to build senses of acceptance and to create spaces for exchanging experiences?

Teachers are hopeful (re)sources.  Layton (1987) advises, “It is usually from a gifted teacher that a child catches his first glimpse of harmony or wisdom and gets his first hint of the intellectual adventure which may engage him for the rest of his life”  (p.146).  I have had such teachers in my life.

Teachers can use many forms as in journaling, letter writing, blogging, formal/informal meetings and so on to learn more about and exchange their personal and professional beliefs and practices.  And as they begin to trust themselves and also feel trusted, I believe they will feel they can make a difference.  As Layton (1987) argues, “for a teacher to communicate the vision of the good life, he must first have that vision himself.  If his own light does not burn steadily, he can not hope to kindle it in any one else” (p.146).

From narrative inquiry and reflective practice, I continually hope to change and accept the changes within myself.  If I am open to change —both personal and professional—perhaps, I can affect positive change within my classroom.  Layton writes, “in the successfully creative teacher, knowledge spills over like water from a seemingly inexhaustible fountain.  This kind of teacher is always an inspiration…[because s/he] lives in and helps to enlarge the area of good sense upon which the preservation of civilized values ultimately depends” (p.146).

Perhaps, change and acceptance will lead us closer to senses of peace.  I hope to continually (re)discover them for myself with the possibility of providing senses of peace for all.  But, for now, the best I can is find them within myself.

 

References

Borges, J.L.  (1998). The Aleph. Collected Fictions. New York: Penguin Putnam, Inc. 274-86. (Original work published 1967)

Deng, F.M. (1986). Learning in Context: An African Perspective. In E. Plowman & A. Thomas (Eds.) Learning and development A Global Perspective Symposium Series 15 (September).

Layton, I. (1987). The Role of the Teacher. In B.Kellow & J. Krisak, (Eds.) Essay Thought and Style. Scarborough: Prentice-Hall Canada. 145-6.

Marsh, C.J. & Willis, G. (2003) Curriculum: Alternative Approaches, Ongoing Issues.  3rd.ed. Columbus, Ohio: Prentice Hall

O’Connell Rust, F. (1994) Professional Conversations: New Teachers Explore Teaching Through Conversation, Story and Narrative. Teaching and Teacher Education 15(4), 367-80.

Phillion, J (2001). Landscapes of Diversity: The Autobiographical Origins of a Narrative Inquiry.  Journal of Critical Inquiry into Curriculum and Instruction 3(2), 5-12.

Slattery, P. (1995). Curriculum Development in the Postmodern Era.  New York & London: Garland Publishing, Inc.

Wilson, D.E. & Ritchie, J.S. (1994) Resistance, Revision, and Representation: Narrative in Teacher Education.  English Education. 26(3), p177-88.

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