Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Integrating Aboriginal Perspectives in Education: Perceptions of Pre-Service Teachers

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Integrating Aboriginal Perspectives in Education: Perceptions of Pre-Service Teachers

Article excerpt

Integrating Aboriginal Perspectives in Education: Perceptions of Pre-Service Teachers

Introduction

It has been argued that there is an essential relationship between students' culture and the way in which they acquire knowledge, manage and articulate information, and synthesize ideas (Barnhardt, 1999; Bell 2004; Kanu, 2005). An implication of this argument may be that schools, which are regarded as oppressive institutions that facilitate social reproduction (Giroux, 1997; Steinberg, 2007), should be environments where teachers engage their students in a manner that allows them to explore and affirm aspects of their own identity whilst facilitating academic success. Since primary and secondary education in Canada operates with curricular imperatives that give privilege to what is regarded by many as essential curriculum, contemporary scholars and teaching professionals posit that Aboriginal perspectives should be integrated with existing curricular imperatives. The type of integration called for by many may be regarded as the use of supplementary resources, curricular material, or knowledge to amend or augment an existing programme of study, which allows classroom teachers to enrich mandatory areas of study with relevant, localized content. The word perspectives is the preferred terminology for this sort of integration because it emphasizes the importance of exploring the histories, experiences, values, and knowledge associated with an aspect of Aboriginal culture. In an effort to avoid treating such subject matter in a tokenistic manner--where aspects of Aboriginal culture are explored in a superficial, trivial way that doesn't explore why such aspects exist and the people they represent--teachers in many jurisdictions are now encouraged to share and explore with their students the respective social contexts associated with a given cultural issue or theme. The exploration of Aboriginal perspectives provides a more complete picture of their culture and the peoples and histories that they represent.

The recognition of Aboriginal perspectives as a bono fide aspect of public education may be regarded as a reasonable progression from socio-political events of the last four decades (Schissel & Wotherspoon, 2003); the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples of the mid 1990s is a cogent example of how government has recognized that Aboriginal peoples, their experiences, and their cultures should inform social change (White, Maxim, & Spence, 2004). Some provincial jurisdictions have developed resources to assist in the integration of Aboriginal perspectives into mainstream curricula (White, Spence, & Maxim, 2006). Although Aboriginal education may be frequently perceived as a prospective or constituent part of the post-colonial, anti-racist, and decolonization discourses of educational foundations programmes (Minnis, 2008), the importance of curriculum and teaching issues in Aboriginal education is becoming more prevalent (Armstrong, Corenblum, & Gfellner, 2008; Redwing Saunders & Hill, 2007). The focus on curriculum and learning may be regarded as a response to a concern for the lack of authentic Aboriginal education in Canadian schools.

A discussion of Aboriginal perspectives may benefit from the consideration of the cultural values and heritage that exist amongst Aboriginal peoples in Canada. Gair, Thomson and Miles (2005) asserted that Aboriginal scholars frequently espouse the consideration of cultural aspects such as relevant beliefs, traditions, values, and rituals when discussing or researching human behaviour and other social phenomena associated with Aboriginal peoples. Gair, Thomson and Miles explored the importance of existent culture by highlighting the inequality that often exists between the dominant society and those who are marginalized:

   When those who have power to name and to socially construct reality
   choose not to see you or hear you, whether you are dark-skinned,
   old, disabled, female, or speak with a different accent or dialect
   than theirs, when someone with the authority of a teacher, say,
   describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of
   psychic disequilibrium, as if you looked into a mirror and saw
   nothing. … 
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