Monday, December 15, 2008

Skookum Presentations!

So, my two Social Studies 10 classes have been presenting "Heritage" projects for the last few days and I am "caught" (as an old prof used to say) by the powerful sentiments and connections the students have revealed. Their job was to ask some questions of their own past (family trees, interviews, story-gathering, etc.) and report on interesting findings and connections to Canadian history (where do I come from? where do we come from?). We've heard of new languages learned, sod houses built, businesses started, wars fought (one g-g-gfather fought in 3!), and doing things "the old way" (heritage skills). The Irish Potato Famine came up, as did the Royal Wardrobe of Elizabeth I, Japanese internment, the RCAF, racism & residential schools, Ellis Island & Pier 21, the potlatch, the smudge, the Stock Market Crash, Nazi spies in Prince George, escape from terror, family break-ups, sad deaths, and and also times of healing & celebration & humour. I've learned (again) that students are hungry to ask questions when their identity is involved. For example, one student talked about interviewing her grandmother who used to jump on the frozen river and ride rafts of ice... she asked "why don't we do stuff like that anymore?" A student then asked "what will we tell our grandchildren?" Another student suggested her generation watched the world go by: our grandparents talked of their adventures and "we talk about going on facebook" -- many thoughts turned to "what difference will I make in the world, in the lives of others?"

We got to see, and have explained, photo albums, ration cards, old leather books with curious hand-writing, moccasins, teapots, an A.R.P. helmet, and lederhosen. We are, it turns out, Aboriginal, American, Chinese, Dutch, East Indian, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Jamaican, Metis, Phillipino, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Russian, Scottish, Slovakian, South African, Syrian, Thai, and Ukrainian, and probably a few more... as one girl said "I'm a typical Canadian Calico kid." We got to eat tea biscuits, samosa, egg tarts, gingerbread cookies, and canned wieners. We thought we were going to meet a cat. The classroom walls are festooned with photos and family trees -- trees shaped like trees, like charts, like maps, and even one shaped like a dream. The students have been wowed by the presentations and many have caught a genealogy bug which they will pursue beyond this course -- "this is something I'm going to look into later" or "I didn't get ahold of this story but I'm going to track it down at Christmas." To all the students who have so thoughtfully made connections with their/our past, I thank-you!!! This project, and these two wonderful Socials classes, will occupy a special place in my memory. I'm talking about it like the semester is done but I wanted to get this out while the gratitude was fresh.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

It's just hair!!!

I'm amazed how many people freaked out when I put in the dreads and then later when I cut them off. Most comments implied that it all meant something. Can't a guy just have long hair or short hair without it being about subversion or complicity with the system? Can't a guy wear a tie without people asking him if he has a job interview? O.K. who am I kidding. I don't really have a tie and I'd have hair 6 feet long if I wasn't going bald. Speaking of subversion, I'm reading a fantastic book right now... "Teaching as a Subversive Activity" (Postman/Weingartner 1968)... one of my dad's old books which found a home in my library. Their focus was on the problems if the US education system as it entered a new era, and a call for inquiry-based learning. What's amazing is that the "charges" they level against the education system of the 1960s, the slow response to change, the teacher-knows-best attitude, and the factory system of classrooms, could be used effectively today with very little change in syntax or semantics, although I think many modern proponents have hijacked inquiry-based learning for privatization agendas. I am reading it slowly (nothing new there) because it poses many challenges to my teaching practice which are not easy to resolve. Like the dreadlocks, my thoughts are bound tight and hard to work with, but also provide some joy, interest, and concern to others. There's the meaning you can take from my hair.