Turning Back the Pages – Part 2: Negotiating a Curriculum for Diversity and Peace

2013-08-18 09.15.38

I keep feeling that the same patterns are repeating themselves over and over.  Everyday I do something different, say different words, worry over different thoughts.  But what if my soul is circling me, always coming back to something it wants me to know?  (D. Chopra, 2001, p.211)

Finding Senses of Peace

Years ago, I began writing about diversity and peace on a personal quest, a mission to abolish discrimination from Canadian culture and then to see it transcend and affect the world.  I believed I could (re)write about my experiences as ways of uncovering the hidden “X”, a buried treasure housing the secrets for a non-discriminatory society.

In retrospect, I think most graduate students begin a similar journey of trying to create a text that will transform the world and so I set lofty almost Icarian ambitions of sorts.  Time has passed since my dissertation, almost a full decade, and I can see a lot of my passion in my thoughts, perhaps, at the expense of reason.  But that’s the great thing about negotiation.  My past thesis writing was completed in the now and from the text, I can renegotiate my words with my current state of mind.

I have come to the realization that teaching for peace perhaps begins with the self who is open to change, reflecting on experience and learning from exchanges with others.  (Re)Storying parts of myself—alongside understandings of my cultural self-identity, my teacher experiences, my personal thoughts and writings, my childhood, my family, my others—has brought me to a sense of peace, a place where my metaphoric suitcase (an itinerant teacher’s suitcase) can be freely packed, unpacked and repacked for current and future travels.

I have also learned that attempting to find freedom becomes a (be)longing too heavy for one person to carry.  Like understanding life, it too, eludes my research grasp.  Through my thesis (re)actions, I have learned to accept new ways of research and the possibility of providing for dreams and hopes of freedom rather than just freedom. “Freedom is not empirically available.  More precisely, while freedom may be experienced by us as a certainty along with other empirical certainties, it is not open to demonstration by any scientific methods” (Berger, 1963, p.122).

I realize now that I desired to free myself from a particular moment of difference, “The Roots of Awareness” (a tale found in my blog) where knowledge of my visible difference as cultural marker was thrust upon me.  At the age of six, I experienced racism in Canada as an act that enraged my parents and left me confused and silent.  Over time, I experienced more acts of discrimination in both overt and covert practices.  They caused further confusion and silence.  But my initial moment of identity-crisis as a silenced six-year old launched me on what was to become a lifelong journey of (re)negotiation.

From this childhood memory, I now understand more about my Icarian ambitions.  I desired to make us all the same, one kind of Canadian and in effect, one kind of global citizen.  I wanted multicultural policy to better provide a safe place for all of us.  I was determined to make Canada and the world racismless.    I set out to eradicate discriminatory tensions for me and for those like me.  I wanted to feel (find) protection.  I did not want to negotiate any other way.

However, Crites’ (1979) ideas of self-deception in identity construction help to put my moment of childhood crisis into perspective.  I deluded my self(ves) into believing that I could stop the echoes of the memory of “The Roots of Awareness.”  As Crites states “…if self-deception is a permanent possibility implicit in the very dynamics of experience, it will follow that it is a predicament we must learn to live with, without adding to it other illusions, the assumptions that there must be a definitive solution to it out there somewhere” (Crites, 1979, p.128).  Although the childhood memory fueled my research, at this point of my life, I have come to see an alternative.  I have learned to negotiate.

In my thesis, I found strengths of my voice, acts of human agency and thoughts of endogenous (internal) identity constructions.  I also learned that the idea of identity includes inescapable notions of prejudice.   Fulford (1991) writes, “Parental example, personal experience, religious training, the attitudes of peers—each of these separately, certainly all of them together, amount to much more than the larger and vaguer messages of government and media, whether those messages are clumsy and inadvertent or carefully shaped by propagandists.  It is in the world of private experience, not the media or government, that racism persists and that racism may eventually be defeated.  (Fulford In W.H. New & W.E. Messenger (Eds.), 1991, p.203).

I accept and challenge that “Racism is, and always has been, one of the bedrock institutions of Canadian society, embedded in the very fabric of our thinking, our personality” (Shadd In B. Kellow & J. Krisak, Eds., Second Edition, 1996, p.183).  I continue to hope that “Canada is not a racist society, cannot possibly be a racist society—except in the sense that all societies are racist” (Fulford In W.H. New & W.E. Messenger (Eds.), 1991, p.200).  I continually learn that although the intensity of racism has diminished over time, it may never completely disappear.

And this is just one complex aspect of prejudice—we may never see all forms of discrimination eradicated.

But—I can, for now, offer the option that we can teach each other to be held accountable for our voiced judgments.  Nunez (2000) says, “When you open your mouth to speak, the very words you use, your references, your tone of voice, above all, your diction and your accent reveal your life story” (p.40).  We can teach others to be mindful of the differences amongst cultural voices.  When we voice prejudices out loud, we might not know the full effects of our words.  We might be denying someone’s life story.

Although teaching peace for all is the ideal, I can learn to make the classroom a beginning place only for my responsible practices.  I continually remind myself that diversity extends beyond ethnicity and that the students within our classrooms come from a multiplicity of self in relation to others.  In essence, they come into a classroom desiring to belong.  I know (have lived and live) this to be true.

As Nunez (2000) says, I must be mindful of my voice and the voices that I hear and not hear.  Spoken discriminatory remarks, whether targeted or spoken randomly, carry great impact.  But what if our judgments are not spoken out loud?   Each time these intolerant actions occur in public or private, are revealed or hidden; ripples of intolerance begin or are perpetuated.

What if—my partner belongs to the race you hate, my father believes in the religion you detest, my sister aligns herself with that group, my step-mother belongs to that culture, my cousin lives within a same-sex marriage, my child has a learning disability, my friend belongs to that social class—my story has just been silenced?

I cannot assume that we can be accepting at all times.  Remember that “Perfectionism is slow death” (Prather, 1970, n.p.).  I can, however, try to be more conscious and conscientious of the ripple, the silence, the hurt—all forms of negativity generated by spoken/unspoken words and actions.

And with the above, I return to the concept of traveling, of the itinerant teacher.  When I traveled to the Philippines to write my thesis in the early 2000s, I discovered a sense of self and other that began to change my perspective on life.  As I sat at the kitchen table amongst generations of my family listening to conversations crossing all sorts of paths—laughter, encouragement, language, judgment, guilt, ignorance, time, gender, age, confusion, fear, religion, career, and other criteria—I lived, for that moment, the art of negotiation.

All of these diverse aspects of self amongst others attempted to negotiate while all of us sat at the kitchen table.  Conflicts, dualities, alliances, oppositions—all selves and others under my grandparents’ roof —we were attempting to build senses of family, of community, and of diversity.

And so, my classrooms become like family gatherings at the kitchen table.  As Palmer (1993) writes, “rather than borrow images from other realms of experience, we need to draw an image of community from the world of education, of knowing and teaching and learning.  When we tap our own sources, we will find a heartening fact: at the frontiers of intellectual life, scholars now regard the concept of community as indispensable in describing the terrain that educators inhabit” (p.xiii).  My family metaphor and its textures—a classroom as gatherings of family at the kitchen table, the teacher and students as members of a family, the administrators, the policymakers as members too— they have become a meaningful and vital suitcase belonging for my current and future travels.

For now, I will set more realistic goals and try to avoid Icarian urges as a Teacher Researcher.  I will remain open to change and see each classroom experience as a chance for me to learn more about being, just being.  I will forsake the need to solve discriminatory practices but rather create a space where we can dialogue differences amongst people.  I won’t tell others what they should or shouldn’t do when it comes to accepting others choices.  I will begin with self-acceptance of my experiences and share what I have lived.  As Cazden (1999) writes, “Instead, a more helpful process seems to be for teachers to learn experientially about students and families, and in the process to reflect on their own personal and cultural background instead of unthinkingly living it as an unexamined norm. ( p. viii)

A decade later and my thesis ideas thrive but the desperation of its intentions to solve problems has lessened in fervour.   For now, these acts of writing and negotiating are the best I can do and that suits me fine.  I fold and pocket these current senses of peace within my metaphoric itinerant suitcase.

References

Berger, P.L. (1963). Invitation to Sociology. New York: Doubleday a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.

Cazden, C. (1999). Foreword to Teaching Other People’s Children: Literacy and Learning in a Bilingual Classroom, by C. Ballenger.  New York: teachers College Press.

Chopra, D. (2001). Soulmate.  New York: New American Library.

Crites, S. (1979). The aesthetics of self-deception. University of Tennessee. Soundings. v.62, 107-29.

Fulford, R.  (1991). White Lies. In W.H. New & W.E. Messenger, (Eds.) Active Voice, Third Edition. Scarborough: Prentice Hall Canada. 200-4. (Original work published in Saturday Night, September 1983)

Nunez, E.  (2000). Writing For Effect, (Chapter 6, pp.40-5) In K. Ogulnick. (Ed.). Language Crossings Negotiating the Self in a Multicultural World.New York: Teachers College Press.

Palmer, P.J. (1983,1993). Preface to To Know As We Are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey.  New York, Harper Collins Publishing.

Prather, H. (1970). Notes to Myself. Moab, Utah: Real People Press.

Shadd, A. (1996). Institutionalized Racism and Canadian History: Notes of a Black Canadian. In B.Kellow & J. Krisak, (Eds.) Essay Thought and Style, Second Edition. Scarborough: Prentice Hall Ginn Canada. 183-7.

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