Monday, April 10, 2006

Review: Aboriginal Education

[Marlene Brant Castellano, Lynne Davis, and Louise Lahache, editors. Aboriginal Education: Fulfilling the Promise. Vanocuver: UBC Press, 2000.]

Education and pedagogy have always interested me. Though my partner, both of my parents, one of my sisters, an uncle, a grandfather, and a number of friends have all had formal roles as educators of one sort or another, other than helping to lead a very few workshops and one semester as a teaching assistant, I have not. Nonetheless, parenting, writing, and social change activity -- the three main kinds of work that currently fill my life -- are all about pedagogy in some sense, because they all involve deliberate attention to how your actions and choices will shape the consciousnesses of others.

As well, I suspect that one, perhaps two, chapters in the book I am writing will be related to education. One, in fact, will be the very first chapter of the book, and will talk about the experiences of and actions to challenge mainstream education by two indigenous women. It was as part of my research for this chapter that I read Aboriginal Education.

The book contains many of the documents, reports, and pieces of research related to the education sector that were produced as part of the process of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, or derivatives of those documents. A couple of weekends ago, after I had already started reading this book, I happened to be talking to someone I know who recently wrote a Master's thesis on Aboriginal education -- she said she made heavy use of this book as a reference.

The nature of the content varies widely. Some of the papers are quite technical, things like reviews of policies or practices of various sorts across different jurisdictions. As important as such material is, and as historically useful as it is to have it surveyed in a single volume, that sort of thing is rarely interesting reading. However, the majority of the essays deal with ideas about issues of pedagogy and identity and power and resistance, in one form or another, usually in connection with real examples and case studies. I was particularly interested in the essays about concrete experiments in education, from things like the culturally based science curriculum produced by the Akwasasne School Board to some of the innovative efforts in post-secondary education across the country. I also appreciated the history of broadcasting efforts controlled by Aboriginal peoples, and the various discussions related to what exactly it might and can and should and does mean for pedagogies to be based in indigenous traditions and genuinely controlled by indigenous communities.

It is hard to make overarching statements about a collection of this sort. Only two observations occur to me as being relevant to more than one of the essays published here. The first is some curiosity about the extent to which these papers being produced for a state-driven process, the RCAP, as well as the fact that the state is the only potential (if usually reluctant and rarely reliable) source of money for educational efforts controlled by indigenous communities, has resulted in some of the papers reflecting an image of the state and of the potential for the state to embrace positive change that is perhaps more charitable than the evidence warrants. The other has to do with technology -- the book was published six years ago, and I suspect much of the material was written several years before that, but in only one short decade a lot of the references to computer, communication, and broadcast technologies feels a bit dated.

Certainly this book has provided me with much important background information that will be useful when I come to write the relevant chapter some time in the next few months. But I think for a non-Aboriginal person to read this book and mainly go away thinking, "Well, it isn't it nice what they are doing. They are doing some cool stuff with little support," is really missing the point. Educational institutions and pedagogies which are colonial, and which colonized peoples wish to disengage from and/or carve safe niches within, are inevitably reinforcing the colonial relationship in how they educate and socialize the children of the colonizers into habits of privilege and domination. What are we (the colonizers) doing about that?

Don't really know, to be honest, but the question kind of scares me, as the parent of a pre-schooler that will all too soon be a schooler, as a nineteen year veteran of those institutions myself, and as someone with lots of nears-and-dears who do or did work in those institutions.

[Edit: For a list of all book reviews on this site, click here.]

1 comment:

The Canadian said...

We are seeking additional volunteer writers and editors.