Sunday, June 6, 2010

Closing the Gap or the Final Nail?

Recently I was lucky to listen to Lorna Williams. You can, too, at the Network of Performance-Based Schools website. Her message is critically important as we dash forward, our intentions good, our ideals clear. She says we must be humble, knowing that alone we cannot always see the path; when we walk together, she says, we can help each other see the way. Too often, we are so certain that we see the way, that we can "fix" the world, that we have "the answer." However, if we dare to ask others, especially those we are so keen to "support," if we ask humbly, if we have the courage to listen to the answer, if we are willing to be helped, we might find that all our carefully laid plans and all our excellent ideas that we believed were blazing a trail are taking us down the same old road to the same old place.

Our mantra lately is "success" for each child. We look at our dismal graduation rates for Aboriginal students and with good intention decide that we will "close the gap." Who can argue? Lorna Williams. She asks, what does closing the gap mean? Is it the final nail on our assimilation? Unless, she says, schools are reflective of the knowledge systems of the people who attend, that is what it means. The way that we assess, count success, means I have to be a learner of a very specific kind. Unless school can be places where children can value their own identity, where they can walk in schools and in classrooms and feel they don't need to not hide who they are, we are in the work of continuing to assimilate. Her question to us is: how do we become a bridge that reconciles values that clash? Recently our good intentions have led us to focus on the success of the child. Lorna Williams asks us to reconsider - if the only improvement rests on shoulders of students, not on quality of the experience of what we're constructing in relationships in our rooms of learning.

Her words remind me that we must be relentlessly cautious as we define "success," and "closing the gap," that we are not simply couching old intentions in new language. Let us always remember - and help each other to make sure we never never follow the same path - the mandate of Residential schools: “Their education must consist not merely of the training of the mind, but of a weaning from the habits and feelings of their ancestors, and the acquirements of the language, arts and customs of civilized life” (Government of Canada report, 1847).

Image from Daniel Y. Go's photostream

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