The Curriculum Roadmap:
For clarity and ease of reading, the use of the pronouns she, he, her, him, hers, and his are varied and used equally throughout this curriculum guide. Wherever the context of the writing so requires, references to pronouns of a specific gender are used.
Chapter One: Introduction
Why We Do What We Do
Early in the process of developing this curriculum, the developers met with the Curriculum Advisory Committee members and asked them to share their understanding about our roles as Adult Basic Education instructors. We asked them to reflect on what they understood about their learners. The participants’ stories were rich with intimate insights into the lives of individuals with whom they work. The following is a composite sketch of a learner constructed from their lived experience.
Megan is a young mother of two from a nearby First Nation. She is apprehensive about meeting with you today, but states, “I want to be more than a welfare mother to my children. I want them to see me and not be ashamed.” She explains that she had her first child while still in high school and that she never really returned to school since then. Megan has tried Adult Basic Education before but issues associated with childcare, money, and pressure from her partner led to her decision to quit. She has registered this year because she says, “I’m ready to learn this time. I want to find out what I can do now that I’m on my own.”
The Diversity in Our Classrooms
Instructors recognize the visible diversities within our classrooms. Learners are immigrants, they are urban Aboriginals, they are mature men seeking new work skills or retraining, and they are Caucasian women looking to enter the workforce for the first time. They attend programs in a variety of locations – in northern and southern regions, on reserves and in rural and urban communities. Each community has its own characteristics, interests, and needs. However, the diversity in our classrooms extends beyond the visible. Learners play a variety of roles in their communities. They are parents, family members, and community members. They also have a wide range of personal experiences that are unique.
While we refer here to the diversity of learners, we must also recognize the diversity among instructors. Some instructors are new to Adult Basic Education while others have worked in this area for many years. Some deliver individualized programs, as opposed to larger, group-taught programs; some have continuous intake while others work in programs with block intakes. We represent multiple ethnic, classed, and gendered identities. These multiple identities affect our perceptions about teaching and instructional practices. Instructors and learners alike bring these diversities to our classrooms.
Learners come to Adult Basic Education for a variety of reasons. Some want skills to enhance their chances for employment or to gain academic certification. They want to make changes in their lives. Most hope to contribute to change for their children and communities. Others seek the tools to gain empowerment and achieve personal transformation.
The diversity in our classrooms is also reflected in the way in which learners view our roles as instructors. Some may expect us to play the role of “expert in control” of the classroom. For them, the concept of a good teacher is rooted in traditional teaching practices (lecture, test, rote-memory work, worksheets, and so on).
Diversity can pose challenges for all of us. Choosing more inclusive teaching approaches can also be challenging. Instructors and learners alike will be faced with many opportunities to negotiate across cultures. To negotiate effectively, individuals need to grow in their multicultural competencies. Cross-cultural competence is a skill that requires substantial effort to learn. We need to approach new relationships in a humble manner, recognizing and admitting to ourselves when we lack experience and comfort in working with others. Then we, like all adult learners, must choose to move towards social action by committing ourselves to learning more about others. Working with someone from a different ethnic tradition does not necessarily lead to uncovering differences in expectations, communication styles, and values. However, it can open the door for those negotiations to begin. As trusting, reciprocal relationships develop, perhaps we can then each gain the competence to be true bicultural negotiators.
While all learners are unique, special mention is made of the growing population of adult Aboriginal learners in our province. Nearly 60% of Adult Basic Education learners are Aboriginal (Saskatchewan Learning, 2002). Therefore, curriculum content and instructional practices and approaches need to be inclusive of Aboriginal peoples’ experiences and knowledge. For these reasons, Aboriginal perspectives and Aboriginal education are discussed throughout this curriculum.
There are many reasons why a disproportionate number of Aboriginal adults are attending Adult Basic Education. A lengthy, chronicled, colonial history in Canada has clearly documented the tragedies of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples (Wotherspoon & Satzewich, 1993). Many Aboriginal peoples and entire communities have experienced some type of trauma, and, in some cases, generations of people have experienced profound consequences that have affected every part of their lives. This is a trauma that flows from colonialism6 and the resulting layers of cultural oppression. This is the history that continues to hand Aboriginal learners their inheritance: school failure, social instability, domestic violence, language loss, financial insecurity, systemic discrimination, and racism.
Many Aboriginal learners will be actively struggling with the lingering effects of colonization. Joseph Naytowhow, Elder Representative, clearly understands the baggage learners bring with them to school. He reminds us, “Our students are damaged.” He knows intimately the struggle Aboriginal learners experience as they are asked to become workers with little or no work experience and to study and learn from materials that are not reflective of their knowledge or experiences.
To move past the negative to a positive process of education for learners and instructors, Aboriginal perspectives are integrated across curricula. This integration will help all participants to develop an understanding of and respect for the history, cultures, contemporary issues, contributions, and accomplishments of Aboriginal peoples. By developing informed opinions on matters related to Aboriginal peoples, non-Aboriginal learners are better prepared to participate fully in an inclusive and accepting society.
The goal in integrating Aboriginal perspectives into curricula is to ensure all learners have opportunities to understand and respect themselves, their cultural heritage, and the cultural heritage of others. These inclusive practices and perspectives will better equip learners with the knowledge and skills needed to fully participate in the civic and cultural realities of their communities and the workforce.
Aboriginal perspectives apply to learning experiences for all learners. Many recommended instructional approaches for Aboriginal learners are recognized as “best practices” for all learners7. However, there may be unique and particular learning experiences that apply only to Aboriginal learners.
Being inclusive of Aboriginal perspectives is not necessarily easy, for some will resist and even challenge its importance or relevance. Instructors need to be aware of attitudes and beliefs that have resulted from our shared history.
We recognize that the diversity in our classrooms creates diverse expectations and assumptions about the educational experience. However, we also believe that delivery organizations and instructors who are responsive to the unique needs and interests of the learner can create a transformative environment for all. The next section discusses some ways to acknowledge Aboriginal perspectives in your learning environments.