On Reconciliation

Courtesy of Wikimedia.org

“There isn’t a profession in Canada that shouldn’t be required to understand the aboriginal experience.”

So says the Commissioner of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission yesterday, a statement that will likely rankle those in Conservative conservative circles, but which I believe may not go far enough in addressing the Commission’s mission and mandate.

From the Commission’s Interim Report in 2010:

“We will reveal the truth about residential schools, and establish a renewed sense of Canada that is inclusive and respectful, and that enables reconciliation.”

Lately immersed in Paulo Freire‘s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, this mandate to establish a renewed sense of Canada that is inclusive and respectful strikes me as narrowly placed on “professionals,” and more appropriately perhaps expanded to include all Canadians. Because wouldn’t establishing this “renewed Canada” stem from everyone on each of the sides of our nation’s “solitudes” understanding the experience of the Other(s)?

Isn’t this what is meant by “reconciliation”?

reconcile verb [ trans. ] (often be reconciled)

restore friendly relations between : she wanted to be reconciled with her father | the news reconciled us. 

cause to coexist in harmony; make or show to be compatible : a landscape in which inner and outer vision were reconciled | you may have to adjust your ideal to reconcile it with reality. 

make (one account) consistent with another, especially by allowing for transactions begun but not yet completed : it is not necessary to reconcile the cost accounts to the final accounts. 

Freire says that “the raison d’être of liberation education […] lies in its drive toward reconciliation. Education must begin with the solution of the teacher-student contradiction, by reconciling the poles of the contradiction so that both are simultaneously teachers and students.”

“The truth is,” he says, “that the oppressed are not ‘marginals,’ are not people living ‘outside’ society. They have always been ‘inside’ – inside the structure which made them ‘beings for others.’ The solution is not to ‘integrate’ them into the structure of oppression, but to transform that structure so that they can become ‘beings for themselves.'”

Now, he is speaking of teachers and students and oppressor and oppressed almost interchangeably here based on the premise that the traditional “banking” model of education, in “attitudes and practices, […] mirror[s] oppressive society as a whole.” Following with this idea, our schools should then be tasked with understanding the breadth of the Canadian experience: aboriginal, French Canadian, female, new immigrants, our Anglo-European fore-bearers, and all points between and beyond.

There can be no greater national import, it seems, than reconciling these disparate threads into a Canadian identity that each of us can say represents us. 

Which is something you can be opposed to, I guess… no doubt there are those folks out there who believe that a society is established by the “winners,” and that the “losers” should “move on,” or “assimilate” or… starve?

But I would inquire as to the logic behind such a disagreement; based on what grounds should we be opposed to reconciling the myriad interpretations of our history, or our future?

Each of us has out own view of this story, this much we can hopefully agree is true; but the leap we make when we discount others’ interpretations of a shared reality is domination by definition.

There is only one type of fascism, and it is exactly this prohibition against disagreement. Somewhat naturally then, I would argue that this type of domination is antithetical to the idea of Canada we are taught to celebrate in our socials curricula, national holidays, and – before the recent rekindling of our obsession with the military – museums.

Here the argument revolves around the value of diversity in a culture; if there is no value in diversity, I suppose, by all means: let those who can’t adapt rot. But then, this is decidedly not how our country chooses to represent itself in its laws, civic institutions, or national character.

Doesn’t our work as citizens in such a country then revolve around creating a narrative that allows for the continued expression of the country’s diverse elements?

If not this, then what?

“Diversity for diversity’s sake,” one of my colleagues said to me the other day, “is meaningless.”

But this is patently false; in fact, diversity in a population is an evolutionary necessity. Homogenous populations are ill-equipped to adapt to environmental, social, economic or other changed: when cultures become too similar, in other words, they face a higher risk of extinction.

Diversity for its own sake then is actually an imperative element of survival, making its cultivation and celebration all of our responsibility; but only if you believe that the laws of nature which govern all other life on earth apply to us as well.

Which of course is something you can choose not to believe, if you like. But you may encounter some difficulty in reconciling that belief with your experience of life here on earth. This failure to reconcile reality with our inner lives and beliefs is a process known as epistemic closureit may please you to know.

But it is the essence of dogma, not philosophical discourse:

The point of philosophy is not to have a range of facts at your disposal, though that might be useful, nor to become a walking Wikipedia or ambulant data bank: rather, it is to develop the skills and sensitivity to be able to argue about some of the most significant questions we can ask ourselves, questions about reality and appearance, life and death, god and society. As Plato’s Socrates tells us, ‘These are not trivial questions we are discussing here, we are discussing how to live.’

Northwest Inquiry Radio Documentaries

Audio Documentaries on @105theHive

Live on @105theHive

Last week, the TALONS classes presented audio documentaries their small groups had been preparing out of individual threads of personal inquiry into the history of the Canadian Northwest (if you’re just joining us, here is a brief introduction to the project). Personal explorations became reflective and highly professional collaborative radio documentaries that were broadcast – via #ds106radio‘s younger sister station 105 the Hive – from the Math Department’s tutorial office back to the classroom, but also onto the wider web. TALONS alumni Jonathan and Andrew played hosts over the course of two days’ radio listening, providing introductions and banter between shows and asking the reporters and producers a few questions after each episode.

If we’d really been on our toes, the Geography & Natural resources public service announcements from the fall would have made excellent transitional material. But here in a blogged archive are a few highlights from last week’s broadcasts, along with some sponsored material:

The Last of Louis Riel

Introduction: a dramatization of the trial of Louis Riel is played, with Christina narrating from the present.

Act I: Justann finishes the introduction and brings us into Act I, which addresses the reasons why Riel left the United States following his exile.

Act II: Natalie then explains why Riel stayed in Canada after certain death, which features audio from an interview with Jean Teillet, Louis Riel’s great grand niece, from CBC’s Ideas.

Act III: After Louis Riel’s execution, Carlin asks whether the execution of Louis Riel would be considered a triumph or mistake and Christina follows up with explaining why Louis Riel’s death came at the right time.

A Message from BC Salmon Farmers

The Great Identity Theft

17th century Canada, bold and bountiful, awaits the exploration and exploitation of those nestled inside the Manifest Destiny.  Every valley, forest, and plain awaits a man with a gun in one hand and a bible in the other, ready to “civilize” his new found nation.

“To rid the world of red, and fill it with white”

Somewhere along the way, a people neither European nor Native formed: the Metis. The Metis balanced between two worlds. Like First Nations and Inuit, this nation possessed a distinct culture, with trappers and traders. Again, like First Nations and Inuit, the Metis endured years of oppression from the European settlers. But the theft of land, wealth, and family could not compare to the loss of a culture, spirit, and identity.

Canada’s Economic Action Plan for Diamonds

 

Confronting Manifest Destiny 

Jeff and the gang cover:

    • Nationalism
    • Manifest Destiny
    • Why America didn’t attack Canada
    • Effects of the potential annexation of Canada by the United States

A Message against the Export of Asbestos

 

The Controversial 11 Treaties

Our lovely host Isaac M. will bring up some small talk and a current event (The Boston Marathon Bombings: Brothers arrested) like usual, and will then steer the show into the question of the day: “With the original treaties signed (between the Natives and Canada), what do both sides think they have “honoured” and what do they think the other side has failed at?”

From the Friends of Potatoes

 

A Fresh Perspective on the Northwest

Hosts Marie and Cheslie invite guests Devon and Max to cover people’s shifting perspectives on the Metis, Hudson’s Bay Company and Louis Riel.

You can find the rest of the TALONS Northwest Inquiry podcasts posted here.

 

Inquiry into the Northwest

Northwest Inquiry
Organizing Inquiry Topics

These last few weeks, the TALONS have taken their study of Socials 10 west, from the fledgling union of Confederation to Hudson’s Bay, Manitoba, and the resistance that unfolds along the Red River Valley. In seeking out the story of Louis Riel, and how his execution – as well as the subsequent relationship between the government and the Metis, Inuit and other First Nations of the Northwest – fits into modern Canada’s understanding of our origin story, the unit seemed naturally suited to a structure of personal and collaborative inquiry.

In thinking about what shape the inquiry would take, I wondered if Canadian History might borrow a project from a study of personal narratives a few years back. As part of an English essay-writing unit, the personal reflection and  critical exploration that came about through each member of the class writing and recording an audio version of This I Believe essays gave way to a crystalline vision of a socially constructed artistic expression.

Really, it was something.

Even the Edward R. Murrow quote from the unit page on the class wiki speaks to something I think we’re teaching no matter what the topic in history:

“..to point to the common meeting grounds of belief, which is the essence of brotherhood and the floor of our civilization.”


Needless to say, perhaps, I’ve been looking to repeat the experience at some point.

Though the TALONS program seldom ‘repeats’ itself very often. There are familiar elementsevents and explorations, sure. But to a certain extent, each of the TALONS cohorts walks its own path, and creates its own stories. And as these stories get filtered down between grade tens and nines, survive on the class wikis and archives of blogged assignments now going back four years (!), I look forward to this period of spring when the forms, norms and storms of the fall and winter allow for the present collective of personalities to synthesize their learning in the present community’s own terms.

This year the class’ study of North American history began with Geography and the American Revolution, before taking on a series of discussions on Canadian Confederation, and setting out into the Northwest. But through each of these subjects, there has been much conversation around the role of mythology in our national identity:

  • How we tell the stories of our inception.
  • How we internalize our narratives of victory.
  • And how best to confront the darker corners of our past.
Northwest Timeline
Northwest Timeline

All of which is the long way of introducing where the class began last week by reading up on the resources and materials created by the TALONS of 2010 and setting out their own directions of inquiry in blog form, which were then sorted into distinct themes:

Cultural Effects of Expansion

“Canada’s a pretty great place today, eh? The Northwest expansion, or basically the years from 1700 – 1900, Canada went through the time that would most influence the country that it is today.

In looking closer to a specific part of this process, I wondered how the expansion into Rupert’s Land owned by the Hudson’s Bay Company affected the Lower Canadian French people.”

Alyssa

“From 1830 to 1996 Inuit, First Nations, and Metis were torn from their native culture with intentions of assimilating them into the dominant culture through the Residential School System. These schools, run by Christian priests and nuns, raised and abused the indigenous people of Canada in hopes to “kill the Indian in the child”. Some schools in Alberta and British Columbia going so far as the compulsory sterilization OF CHILDREN. Aboriginal children weren’t seen as children, they were seen as seeds of savages to invade the garden of civilizations that were in need of extermination.”

Julie

The Fur Trade

“At the forefront of this (as you all know) was the fur trade.  For a set of pelts scraped off the backs of deceased animals you would receive fantastic HBC products such as overly strong perfume, clothing made in China, and other forms of HBC swag decked out in those trademark stripes.  Jokes aside, the items up for trade were much more practical, however, not any greater in the quality or value than their modern merchandise.   While you could get fabulous point blankets, thunder sticks, and firewater, there had to be room for profit.”

Tyler

“As common knowledge of the Fur trade, Hudson’s Bay Company and North West Company were fierce rivals for many years. They both wanted to control the fur trade and were willing to do anything to control the market. This resulted in some company members even willing to murder for better trades. They began fighting and they continued fighting from the 1780′s until 1821. In 1820, both companies began struggling financially. In 1821,  Henry Bathurst the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, forced the companies to stop fighting.”

Anthony

The Life and Hard Times of Louis Riel

“Though regarded as a hero in Quebec, Riel was still widely denounced as Thomas Scott’s “murderer”, and a reward of $5000 was offered for his arrest. Sir John A. MacDonald, wanting to avoid political conflict, even offered to provide funds to Riel if he remained in his exile. But Riel eventually returned and joined federal politics. He was quite successful as well, winning in a by-election in 1873 and the general election is 1874. All was well for Riel, until he went to Ottawa to sign the register. Riel was sentenced to two years imprisonment and stripped of his political rights. The federal government finally decided to grant amnesty to Riel, provided he went into a five year banishment. During his banishment, Riel would go on to stay at two asylums in Quebec and a teaching job in Montana.”

Justann

Related Current Events

“Later that year, in May, chat logs revealed 22 year old Bradley Manning’s confession to leaking the video to Wikileaks. Manning was arrested shortly after without a trial and sent to Camp Arifjan in Kuwait. There, he suffered harsh living conditions where, as David House, founder of the Bradley Manning Support Network, states that Manning “[degraded] over time – physically, mentally, and emotionally.” His mental health, as stated by his lawyer, has been described as “almost gone.””

Christina

“Anyway, so Cyprus was actually surprisingly stable for a long time, rated in the top 50 of the nicest places to live, up until the Eurozone crisis in which everything went to hell  heck(Gotta keep things ‘G’). That, as you may or may not remember, happened just last year and is still affecting them today, as we see with Cyprus. Being a small island country, they don’t have a vast amount of resources to trade and sell to help them escape the crisis, which is a primary reason behind their economic downfall.”

Jess

In the photo above – and in these herehere and here – you can see the process by which these various individual threads were woven into different group inquiries that have become (over the course of the last week) the subject of various audio documentaries. Taking as examples the exemplary reporting, editing and storytelling of the folks at Radiolab and This American Life – and coinciding with a particularly timely episode of CBC’s Ideas – groups of three-to-five TALONS have been building collaborative audio documentaries of their individual explorations, soliciting interviews and writing personal reflections on their learning throughout the research process.

All of which we’re hoping to share this week, live on the (web) radio.


Building on a recent English unit that saw the class present audio dramas live in the classroom, the plan for this week is to take the groups’ various produced segments down the hall (to an often-used Math ‘tutorial’ office) and onto the Hive 105 airwaves such that they can be streamed live into the classroom speakers (for that extra bit of radio authenticity), and onto the wider web for listeners across the country, and anywhere else you might like to tune in from [For more information about how to listen to 105 the Hive in your classroom, click here].

You’ll be able to tune into the TALONS Northwest audio documentaries this week on both Wednesday and Thursday (Friday as well, if necessary), with the morning class presenting between 9:00am – 10:10am (PDT), and the afternooners going on between 1:45pm – 3:00pm (exact time to be determined), and join us on Twitter (or a Skype call in, if there’s time…) at @talonsblog during each of the broadcasts.

If you aren’t able to join us live, stay tuned to Defying Normality for the upcoming show notes and audio archive.

Artifacts of Process

The Digital Imagination

Notes on @GardnerCampbell's talk, Teaching, Learning & the Digital Imagination

We’ve been talking a lot in Socials lately about how to realize the potential of discussion in the TALONS classroom. As we attempt to engage with the salient meaning of Canadian Confederation, we are talking about democracy, engagement, and the synthesis of diverse ideas. In addition to Aman compiling a list of strategies to confront obstacles from shyness to a lack of basic understanding of the topic on the class blog, Jess took to her own site to share advice that came up during our class debriefing:

While I, myself dislike mind maps and being assigned to take notes, I enjoy writing down things. Little epiphanies I’ve had from the last two years are literally written all over my pieces of note paper and for me this is the most effective way of learning. Yes, I can admittedly say that if I’m given free reign on a lined sheet of paper while people are talking, I may not listen to the entire conversation and yes, I may spend 25% of the class trying to finally figure out how to perfectly draw a human head, but I do listen.

The way this had been phrased during the afternoon conversation was as a goal for each participant in the class’ conversations to create an Artifact of Process: a drawing, a list, a learning statement; a question, a tweet, or a blog post. Something I have been particularly better at this year (so far) has been in keeping a coherent daybook of lesson plans, to-do lists, brainstorms and notes on various talks, Youtube sessions, and Philosophy assignments.

In their own way, they are their own sort of visual art.

Confederation on the CBC

Found: Money

Courtesy of Flickr user Haunted Snowfort

Let it not be said that public broadcasting’s role in meaningfully interrogating the roots of Canadian heritage and identity is anything less than Herculean. From bringing Hockey Night in Canada into homes from St. Johns to Sandspit, to uncovering the history of our national origins, I wanted to share a few gems that could be of aid in coming to understand the meaning and historical context of Confederation, as originally shared on CBC Radio.

Enjoy!

The Enright Files – Fathers of Confederation

Michael Enright, host of The Sunday Edition, in conversation about two of the more intriguing fathers of confederation. Biographer Richard Gwyn talks about Sir John A. MacDonald, Canada’s first prime minister while University of Toronto Scholar David Wilson talks about the poet of Confederation Thomas D’Arcy McGee.

The Massey Lectures

1963: THE IMAGE OF CONFEDERATION 

PART 1 – PART 2 – PART 3 – PART 4 – PART 5 – PART 6 

In the 1963 Massey Lectures Frank Underhill writes:”Our experiment of the new Canadian nationality has now been going on for almost a hundred years. It must be confessed that we approach the centenary year of 1967 in a state of mind that falls far short of the spirit of optimism and high adventure that marked the Fathers of Confederation. We seem to have lost their clear assurance of national purpose. We are not sure even that we are one nation. Our Canadian politics of the 1960s is leading many citizens to doubt whether it is worth trying to be nation if this is the only kind of politics which we are capable. One senses a feeling of defeatism in the air.”

Nation of Hockey 

Part I  PART II

The back of our five dollar bill shows kids playing shinny on a timeless pond somewhere in Canada. But Calgary writer Bruce Dowbiggin argues that hockey is far more than simple nostalgia or big business. It’s a clear window into the complexity of modern Canada: from shifting political power and economics, to multiculturalism and what we think it means to be a Canadian in the 21st century.

 

Gleneagle joins the Six String Nation

Jowi & a gossip of Talons

We were lucky tonight at Gleneagle to be paid a visit by Jowi Taylor and his wonderful project, the Voyageur Six String Nation Guitar.

Iris meets Jowi & Voyageur

After meeting Jowi this summer at the Unplug’d conference, it was a great pleasure to have him tell this Canadian story as a fundraising event involving so many learners and parents in the Gleneagle family, gathered to bask in music created on a mythical instrument. Having been in the shoes of someone invited to play Voyageur at an evening like this, I was excited and anxious to share this particular aspect of the experience with two young musicians at school. It is a terrific honour to play after knowing the origin and essence of so many of the instrument’s parts, and manages to supply a perfect and personal moment of Canadiana for performer and audience alike.

Andrew closing the show

Iris and Andrew each wowed the audience tonight, with Iris playing an original of her own, and Andrew delivering a deft cover of a City and Colour song. It was a joy to see them bringing the guitar to life and smiling through it all for their friends in the audience, and they should be commended for putting a perfect cap on a great evening celebrating community.

Essential British Columbia

This week, we have been beginning our study of Canadian geography and our reading of the Golden Spruce by reflecting on what we might find as the Essence of British Columbia. In setting out to learn a few other TALONS skills – image manipulation, journal writing and a few technicalities of posting different items to our blogs – each of the classes have been selecting pictures from the TALONS archives of Flickr photos and adding text from different reflections on place to make the image come to life in a more personal and powerful fashion.

Which got me to thinking this morning that I and we have friends, colleagues and classmates out there in the world beyond B.C. There are our friends in the Idea Hive, and across Canada’s north and east through my connections in recent Unplug’d conferences. There are Jabiz’ classes, and Keri-Lee’s, and Mary’s students learning in Asia, and Europe. And while it gives me a personal charge to see our own provincial home characterized in so many memorable photos and personal reflections, it makes me curious to see others’ homes brought to life in a similar manner.

In a few weeks, we will be looking at Canadian Geography in the larger sense, and it would be excellent to see some of our co-learners from across the country attempt a similar remixing of their  own or their class’ pictures. But also those of you in our international ranks: this question of place is made more tangible with diverse responses to it, and we would love to see what you think of where you call home, and what you think it means.

 

The TALONS meet the Golden Spruce

The Golden Spruce won the Governor General's Award for English Language non-fiction in 2005.

“… a creature that seemed more at home in a myth or fairy tale: a spruce tree with golden needles.”

The TALONS classes have been beginning their study of English, Socials and Science with the Governor General Award Winning Golden Spruce, by John Vaillant, and begun their blogging year with a host of introductory blog posts – in poems, painting, prose and no shortage of personality – covering the first four chapters of a book that is about more than trees:
It is not simply a tale of a tree. It is the tale of a people, of the changes made to a land ‘west of west’ , the mixing of two very distinct cultures.  The tale of  a region, one of the most rugged and natural left in the world. Haida Gwaii exists not far from places such as Danger Island and Danger Passage, and the names were not given idly.  It is a place hard to understand for those who do not live there, and I certainly don’t.  It is the type of place you need to experience to fully understand.

Liam

I glower upwards through the murky water as the hull of a human boat passes over my head. Foolish humans, I think as I lay in the depths of a rocky and jagged bank, with my hands behind my back. So greedy,so malicious. These new comers with their intrusive floating crafts, how I despise them all.

Donya

Megan's Hecate Visions

Megan

As the days go by

do they sit and cry?

the loggers who cut

down the ancients?

Kelsey

We had begun our journey like any other ship and her crew; a group of courageous young men and a ship better than any other. We were going to conquer this wild land and use to its fullest extent. Little did we know, we were in for no easy adventure. We left our hometown over half a year ago. It was after braving Cape Horn and sailing northward for thirteen thousand kilometres when the nightmare truly began. At first, we were simply surrounded by a thick, opaque layer of fog. Then, we had to face heartless winds, uncaring currents, and frighteningly random whirlpools. My socks were the first of my belongings to be terrorized by this inhospitable environment. Then it was our ropes. And finally, our stomachs.

Iris

Donyas Wildest of the Wild

Donya's Wildest of the Wild

Every so often, an oddity is sent upon us. A twist to a seemingly identical fill of trees. John Vaillant reveals a truth to difference; that noticeable is none, unless it posses a difference which appeals to a set of human eyes. The “golden” spruce was extremely noticeable due to its colour. Other natural monuments may be noticeable due to identifying features. But as they say, beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. In my opinion, beauty alone did not declare the golden spruce’s popularity.

Jonathan

They are gone now, the ancient chants that I used to hear, the heavy drum beats that would fill the night air with a pulse that could send shivers down your spine. It has come, and now it has gone. The houses they once occupied, bustling with life like an ant hill, have collapsed in on themselves. Now only moldering piles of wood that are giving in to the forests demands.

Megan

So now humanity (or rather, B.C.’s government) is faced with the decision of what to do with this natural resource. Do we chop it all down? (probably a bad idea) Do we leave it alone and make the mere thought of chopping down a tree a crime? (also, probably a bad idea) Personally, I think that there’s no simple answer to this question. Logging creates hundreds of jobs, and it’s one of B.C.’s primary ways of making money. However, we can’t just go off chopping down whatever we like. As you have no doubt heard before, trees are rather important to the environment, which, in turn, is rather important to us.

Nick

WikiBooks Publishing Project

Ksan, British Columbia
Ksan, British Columbia

One of the surprises of last year’s socials units was the TALONS class‘ foray into publishing with Wikibooks. After more than a year spent within the confines of our district’s SharePoint Wikis and discussion boards, Wikibooks offered our first opportunity to publish and participate in a global dialogue of meaning, history, and identity.

This collective Wisdom of the Crowd is the appeal and power of crowd-sourcing; but the rabid tenor of many Wikipedia debates and discussions – not to mention the oftentimes thoroughly vetted and polished nature of Wiki articles concerning subjects covered in high school – makes venturing into that community a difficult proving ground for young students. Unless students are to be contributing coverage or information on an as-yet-undocumented subject or event – unlikely given the topics covered during the Socials 9 or 10 curriculum – participation in Wikipedia can be a difficult place to start.

Fortunately, the range and reach of Wikimedia Foundation‘s projects extend to include Wikibooks, a subject-by-subject collection of textbooks open to user-editing. Where similar articles – concerning Louis Riel, and the Red River Rebellion, as well as information about Canada’s various First Peoples – on Wikipedia were (more or less) “complete,” I was able to find – to my great surprise – this time last year, that many entries corresponding to our mandated curriculum under the Canadian History text were blank. The class broke up into research groups and “adopted” pages on different groups of First Nations, geographic regions, or notable events and issues in Canadian history.

When we set out on the project many students were surprised that they were “allowed” to use Wikipedia at school, as in so many classrooms even touching down on the “world’s most-cited web page” is forbidden as a blanket policy to combat fears that students can too easily directly plagiarize Wikipedia’s answer to many questions asked as homework. And it is not that this never happens; students make use of Wikipedia and Sparknotes by default to answer traditional questions based around extinct modes of obtaining information.

But what if classroom projects and student research could ask “bigger” questions than when did it happen? or who was there? What if our assignments could facilitate students justifying their interpretations of history’s influence on the present moment and culture? And help them engage in this discussion with the world outside the classroom? To even begin such an endeavour, when faced with the prospect of setting out to research and discuss topics quickly glossed over in the narrow perspective of the classroom text, where would one find a better compendium of source material than Wikipedia?

Sgang Gwaay
SGaang Gwaay, British Columbia

What emerged in the course of publishing, far from an exercise in redundancy (merely copying text from the original Wikipedia articles to the empty Wikibooks pages), was a learning experience encapsulating literacy skills emerging as essentials in the evolving information landscape. Students tracked source material ranging from interviews  to academic papers, and collectively authored a first perspective in knowledge on their subjects. Students were forced to consider multiple sources in developing their own perspective on the complex questions of the Canadian Identity: the purpose of our history curriculum beyond what is written in the course’s prescribed learning outcomes.

During the project, students were not able to cite Wikipedia as a direct source, but encouraged to use it as a starting point toward authors of work on subjects referenced in the articles as a means of providing their published work with the strongest support possible. Students asked questions of experts from all over North America, read widely and were introduced to a variety of issues on the recommendation of public servants, non-profit organizers, academics, and politicians. In the end each group published theirs as a first perspective (in terms of the Wikibooks project) on the information of the day concerning a range of topics on the Canadian Identity. The work had to be cited and written in accordance with Wikibooks’ authorship guidelines, and opened the class’ work to the response and criticism, but also the benefit, of global study on the unit’s subject. From a pedagogical standpoint, the rigour and validity of the class’ use of Wikipedia (and reaching beyond the textbook in general) provided an experience richer in critical analysis and personal investment than many read-and-test units covering the same material.SGaang Gwaay

One student-solicited interview resulted in University of British Columbia Aboriginal Education professor Mark Aquash offering to spend an afternoon discussing the many tough questions surrounding Canada’s First Peoples that our texts (and oftentimes our teachers) are not well-enough prepared to confront. At the conclusion of the nearly two-hour dialogue – which covered the misunderstood labels of native, Métis, Indian, First Nations, Inuit, as well as contemporary conceptions of aboriginal land claims, reservations, education and welfare in the first person – a grade nine offered the following realization that I believe our texts are seldom equipped to facilitate:

All of [most] people’s anger and discomfort about Canada’s First Nations issues boils down to difficulties understanding the different ways our cultures view being human.

Of course, the statement is much bigger than a Canadian issue, and speaks to the extrinsic purpose of our education to teach empathy and understanding across the diverse cultures of our increasingly connected human experience. Thus the underlying purpose I hope the publishing project enables is to broaden the scope of the class’ discussion of our upcoming unit. I have been seeking classes or groups of aboriginal youth (wherever in the world they might reside, Canada or otherwise) to collaborate throughout the past year with the hope of working together to establish a dialogue or publication of student research and study of our local, yet universal history. I am excited to see the TALONS’ blogging network extend and to begin to see other examples of classes sharing their learning through social networks and blogging.

With respect to our First Nations unit specifically, I have only established a few “leads” in connecting our classroom to another in order to discuss this aspect of colonial history, something I think speaks to the pervasive lack of interaction and understanding between First Peoples the world over and European (or other) colonialist nations in the Americas, Africa, Polynesia, and Australia. Delving into the history as we are taught it with the intention of authoring a contemporary narrative of Canada’s struggle to implement a truly multicultural society seems a good place to start though, whether we have company in this endeavour or not.

Many of the TALONS students are participating in the international Student Blogging Challenge this spring, and there is a momentum building around the shared experience that modern communication can offer. With this call to action, the class’ study of its upcoming history chapters is an opportunity to produce a collaborative effort to start a global dialogue of our relationship with this place in Canada, and the world, in this moment in time.