Tag: education

Spreading the good news

Spreading the good news

(In feature photo: The three winners of the National Indigenous Day Bannock Bake-off)

Hope, strength and resilience aren’t words I have heard in a lot of reporting on Indigenous peoples of Canada. The stories I hear most often go like this:

  1. An Indigenous nation has a dire problem (drinking water, suicide crisis, flood plains, etc). The federal government refuses to help. Problem is getting worse.
  2. The federal government is backing a company in their fight to extract resources from the land. Indigenous people protest and police get involved. The company still gets to extract resources.

These stories frame Indigenous people as hapless victims, unable to care for themselves or generally being a nuisance to both private and public sectors.

Stories North doesn’t tell those kinds of narratives. There was no agreement—we didn’t decide this was something we wouldn’t do. It’s just that’s not how we saw the people we met. The Indigenous people who spoke with our class were not helpless, they weren’t weak and they weren’t necessarily opposed to big business or the government, although most are passionate about protecting the land for future generations.

The people we met were incredibly strong—many had been through some hellish experiences, some of which Canadians are beginning to get familiar with through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s work, among other initiatives.

HAROLD (1 of 1)
Harold Johnson of the Long Ago People’s Place, telling us about Champagne First Nation traditions.

Yet, while many shared those experiences, our stories were shaped more by the work they are doing now to heal themselves and their communities. They are forward-thinking leaders, doing the good work that needs to be done for a better future.

Sometimes journalists look down on the “good-news story” for not being serious and important enough. The public does too—see the comments on any good-news story (or don’t, if you value your sanity) and some person is quick to comment that it “must have been a slow news day.”

But the importance of reporting on good-news stories that feature Indigenous people is that they allow the public to have a frame of reference beyond victimhood and civil disobedience. Protests and public crises should be covered—of course—but when many Canadians only see these communities, they don’t know about the incredible things that are happening.

Shauna Yeomans is a land guardian for the Taku River Tlingit First Nation. She helps test the land to make sure projects like the hydroelectric plant aren’t negatively affecting the environment.

As I move forward past this course, I am committed to doing three things to try and combat this narrative of despair:

  1. I want to know more about the people whose lands I live on. I’ve been lucky to get to know what’s happening in some of the First Nations of the Yukon and I’m very grateful to those who have shared. There’s no reason for me not to be talking with people at home. I know I live on unceded Algonquin Territory, but that’s not enough.
  2. I am going to share those stories. I am not currently employed as a journalist, but I have a sphere of influence: friends, family, Instagram followers. You never know who you’re going to touch and social media makes it easier to share what you learn.
  3. I’m going to try and stop feeling bad about preferring to tell good-news stories. I like soft news and if my master’s degree has taught me anything, it’s that most journalists don’t have a lot of respect for that kind of reporting. Yet, this course has taught me that these stories can be important and have the potential to change the way we think about each other. We could all stand to be a little kinder.

I arrived in this class aware of the history of Indigenous people. I’m not all-knowing, but I knew more than the basic pre-contact history taught at school.

As Harold Gatensby shared his residential school story and his outlook on the meaning of life, we burned pieces of one of the residential schools he attended in Carcross.

From the first day of Stories North, when we did a blanket exercise led by two young, strong, First Nations women, I have felt that I need to take my disgust with the way things have gone in the past and turn into something more productive.

What was missing from my education was hope and my own ability to help spread that hope. This class has not only taught me to look for the good, but has tasked me with the responsibility of sharing it.

Here’s to a bright, bright future.


Opting out: when students get a better education by not going to school

Joel Westheimer, University of Ottawa professor and research chair, said schools should be less focused on standardized testing.
Joel Westheimer, University of Ottawa professor and research chair, said schools should be less focused on standardized testing.

While some parents in Ontario threaten to opt-out of sex education, others are more interested in opting out of what’s seen as a more an integral part of education: testing.

“Teachers have been tied to having to teach a very rigid curriculum,” said Joel Westheimer, a University of Ottawa professor and research chair.

On Sept. 16, at Octopus Books at 251 Bank St., he launched a new book, What Kind of Citizen? Educating Our Children for the Common Good, that critiques the current education system for being too focused on standardized testing.

In Ontario, standardized tests are created and administered by the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO). These tests assess the math and literacy skills of students in Grades 3, 6 and 9.

“Kids call it evil questions attacking Ontario,” said Westheimer.

In his book, Westheimer writes that over the past two decades, he’s seen the focus on test preparation cause teachers to teach more math and language arts at the expense of visual art, social science, computers, health and physical education.

“Instead of measuring the things that we care about,” he said, “we start to care about the things that we can measure.”

Erika Shaker, director of the Education Project for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), said the research done by the Ottawa-based policy research group has found that wealthier children tend to do better on standardized tests—their schools, in turn, receive better funding, increasing the disparity in quality of education along class lines.

Shaker has a daughter in the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. After discussing her concerns about standardized testing, she said her daughter chose not to participate in the Grade 3 EQAO test.

“I didn’t see it as an effective use of class time,” Shaker said.

On the day of the test, she said her daughter did classwork at home in the morning and went to school once the testing period was over. Shaker said the school was fine with it: “It was a non-issue.”

More parents across the province have been choosing to opt-out of the tests. Jennifer Adams, director of the Ottawa-Carleton School Board said her board “strongly encourages” students to write the tests.

At the book launch, Westheimer said that while he supports the opt-out movement, he isn’t entirely against standardized testing—assessing schools as a barometer for how things are going can be a good thing.
“It’s not like there are big, bad, evil administrators trying to harm children,” he said. “Everyone’s trying to do what they think is the best thing.”