Masochistic Perceptions, Trials and Truths

These are my cyberfied cerebral synapses ricocheting off reality as I perceive it: thoughts, opinions, passions, rants, art and poetry...

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Role of Educational Institutions***

I originally wrote this missive during the first year of my Bachelor of Education degree almost 10 years ago. My views have changed (evoloved) in some aspects over the years and with Teaching, but most of what is here still rings true.

In this piece I intend to reflect my views on what I feel the purpose of formal schooling has been in Canada, and discuss what role I feel educational institutions should play in our lives. I shall begin with my views on formal schooling in the past.

Tedeusz Borowski, a Polish writer, once wrote "The living are always right, the dead are always wrong". I feel this quotation characterises much of the way we have, and do, address history. We have the ability to travel back into time and observe the blunders and improve upon the advancements of the past. We can thus reflect upon the role of formal schooling in the same critical way, and hopefully learn from many of the errors we have made. Before getting too critical, however, it is vital that a definition for formal schooling is established, as it pertains to my writing.

In my view, formal schooling encompasses two separate elements: the social component and the academic component. The latter concerns itself with the general laws and principles held by conventional science and the technology of the day; in a word: academics. The more interesting, and perhaps controversial component is that of a social-political or cultural nature.

Having gone through the educational system in Nova Scotia, as well as having the opportunity to teach at a Gymnásiúm in post-communist Slovakia, I would say that the social education students receive is highly propagandist no matter where you go. The guidelines for what people are to perceive are clearly set. In fact, when looking at the curriculum set out by Alberta Education, one of the primary objectives is to encourage the development of "good citizens". What do we mean by this? Good citizens, but by whose standards? Residential schools for Native Peoples was one groups' interpretation for producing good citizens. It is an issue of separate perspectives.

The first myth we must dispel is that of an objective education. Canadian education, despite our highly regarded self-image, has been very narrow minded in much of its focus, with many dire consequences. Ultimately, there are cultural groups who have been neglected in the quest for a National identity. There are those who will argue for a more objective view or policies in education, to accommodate those who are oppressed or excluded by the status quo. Certainly a greater level of reason or fairness may, and most certainly should, be acquired. However, to suggest that anything be objective is absurd. To be objective means you do not exist. All reality is based on perception and perspective, and the only truth is that there is no truth. With that, all policy is made from bias and perspective, hopefully expressing the views of the greatest majority possible. In a nutshell, this is what I believe sums up formal education in Canada. It was, and is somewhat still, based on the views and priorities of the Victorian values inherited by the bureaucrats and politicians of their day. Anyone with a knowledge of such ways will immediately recognise the ignorance, conservatism and problems which have arisen from such roots, and continue to taint the way we approach things today.

Upon reflection, would I view formal education as it has existed in Canada to be evil or wrong? There is no definitive answer to such a query. On the one hand, I do feel the system was xenophobic, oppressive and unjust, but wrong…. ? By today's standards, yes. But to the defence of the policy makers of the epoch, they simply echoed their beliefs through their policies as well as emphasising our supposed British identity as we sent all citizens overseas to fight for King and Country. This does not go to say that Canadians did not suffer on the battlefields of Europe alone. Evolution always deals more severely with the victims than it does the mighty, until the mighty themselves fall.

To conclude on my first point, formal education historically in Canada, on a sociological level, was both propagandist and did not reflect Canadian identity, but rather presented ourselves tainted in the red, white and blue of the Union Jack. This was acceptable to several, perhaps even the ignorant majority. Ultimately it alienated and oppressed (if not directly hurt) many others. There are similar examples of this from all over the world, perhaps the countries of the former Soviet Block stands out as the most notorious examples. Ireland also used a re-invented past to perpetuate their independence movement from the British Crown. Essentially, formal schooling reinforced the legislative power's mythical version of identity; a necessary tool in the imperialist agendas of governments world-wide at the turn of this century.

It is with the issue of identity that I will address the issue of the role of educational institutions in our modern Canadian / global society.

When I entered the teaching profession, I held a strong pre-conceived notion as to a teacher's role and the objectives of Education. This belief has evolved considerably over the past few years as I have been exposed to and studied the multiple-aspects of teaching objectives and curriculum development. It is my opinion of what the role of educational institutions is that I will elaborate on here, rather than the official party line of today's policy makers.

Educational institutions should be based solely upon the conveyance academic content, in a manner so as to encourage others to think freely, creatively and develop their own conceptions to be challenged and shared with others. Furthermore, subject matter should be presented so as to represent various opinions, theories and beliefs in addition to transcending political, social and cultural boundaries. To clarify this, students should be given a variety of tools and then develop for themselves the discretion to utilise them to their best end. This might sound a bit dangerous, but true free thought can be rather threatening.

Here's two examples, specific to Native studies, the course for which this paper is being written, as to one aspect of multicultural academic exposure. The first took place during my first round of student teaching. Essentially, I was disgusted at how little material was to be presented regarding Native Peoples in the grade 8 History text. Rather than give the students a museum rendition of Native culture, I had a good friend of mine, of the Cree Nation, come in and perform a sweetgrass ceremony for my students. This worked, and to great effect.

My second example deals with how other cultural teachings might be applied to other fields such as Science. Again, with my Cree friend, we did a curriculum development project for the Multicultural Centre in Stony Plain. Our project combined science and the teachings of the Native Medicine Wheel and traditional myth to explain ecosystems to elementary school children. Again, it worked and made both a great scientific and cultural impact.

I believe the best way to address cultural issues is through a variety of exposures, and, often subtly so that the illusion of having other cultures thrust upon ones' own does not conspire. Whether a class consists of one culture or several, education is a global issue and we formulate our uniqueness by way of contrast to others. To be educated is a twofold process: to know oneself and ones' world. While I feel there is plenty of good to be derived from studying one's own culture, a sense of ego or xenophobia can evolve as, ultimately, the unknown is generally what we fear the most. I feel identity is something every individual must search for themselves, and is not necessary, nor really all that possible, to be perpetuated in our schools, especially given the multicultural make-up of the Canadian population. Culture, on the other hand, is something that exists if its people exist. If we allow educational institutions to promote culture, then it is their version of that culture that is promoted. I grew up in Nova Scotia, ate traditional Scottish foods, played in a Pipe & Drum Band and frequently attended ceilidhs. This was my environment, propagated by its descendants, as it was not taught in our schools and, historically, was oppressed by the British Crown's representatives. It survived and existed because the people did. Honestly, when one's culture is oppressed I feel it stands the greatest chance of survival! In any case, I also feel schools are quite limited in their influence over culture anyway as the real marketing of our identity comes from the media and television.

In conclusion, the past of formal schooling has been one tainted with bias, propaganda and popular convention, yielding several outcomes ranging from illogical to tragic. The remedy for this is not to be easily found, nor easily prescribed. As for views on the role of present and future educational institutions, there are a vast number of priorities and agendas held from one individual to the next. The path education seems to be taking at present is a holistic one which tries to make everyone feel accepted and maximise their potential, regardless of special needs. I agree, in sentiment, that this is a great and noble objective. However, as history teaches us, good intentions can often go awry, doing more damage than it does good. I can offer no solid solution to this, perhaps other than the objective of education should to give others the assortment of tools they require to develop an ability to think freely for themselves, based solely on academics, just as government should legislate political and not social or cultural issues and individuals should live freely together with an open mind, and to each their own.


  • At 10:23 a.m. , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    as cockroach in the wall, cannot leave your blog-spot empty. i see the latest two entries as related, the reason and education. you present these topics well, especially with buddhist influence. reason was a major part of siddartha's enlightenment and teaching took up 2/3's of his life after that. simple living, reasonably, from insight of truth seem to be grounds for teaching that can be attained by any one. jesus teaching time was only 1/10 th. of life where inspiration was all-important, but the simplicity of his teaching was grasped by any one. a short life in truth is equal to a long life of faith. a word of truth outweighs all the accumulation of power and wealth. the compromises made by any one with truth and beauty, to achieve temporary, lead to death by degrees and loss of self in sand, instead of loss of self in one-ness of being. there are these neat arcs of truth in meditation and worship where the one of a measured i.q. of 75 equals the one of m.i.q. of 175. the life work of one = the other, but it is not mathematical. education in a modern, western state has included the ideals you express, which have passed into asian experience in the past 30 years, in spite of the violence expressed by state and other fearful individuals and groups, afraid to lose control over the traditional rite. so with patience and peace, as a buddhist or christian or jew or muslim, or even as a cynical atheist, wait for the changes and feel free to die while waiting; in so doing, join as one with millions of others who died waiting. when you do teach, can you make it more obvious that evolution proves the existence of the creator, an intelligent designer with oneness in mind? look at your keyboard and note a cockroach can step on shift and question mark at the same time. so, do not worry, do not be afraid, do not hope for change in the form of control over the state by the people. be quiet, or make noise, but be reasonable and be peaceful. merci and mercy are one. nodrog the cockroach, arch out.

  • At 2:06 p.m. , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    cockroach nodroganon again... no other comment seems like summer vacuum. miss the max but not musch; minnie keeps busy with cheese droppings (code). looking for utne on site and found subscription, but less interested now, or in geist from left coast. i forget, was this comment on education or culture... teaching of tao also comes easy, if pretense is dropped....


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