Dancing with the Elephant: teacher education for the inclusion of First Nations, Metis and Inuit histories, worldviews and pedagogies

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Peden, Sherry
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Although a plethora of educational initiatives over the past 30 years were developed with the goal of improving the academic success of Aboriginal students in public schools, there continues to be a significant achievement gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students in Canada (Battiste, 2000, 2002; Ireland, 2009; St. Denis, 2007, 2010; White & Beavon, 2009). In 2008, the Manitoba Minister of Education attempted to address this gap in part by mandating that faculties of Education across the province restructure teacher education programs to include a compulsory course on Aboriginal perspectives, histories and pedagogies. This mixed methods research explores the perceived impact of the mandate on the student teachers who completed the course entitled, “Teaching Aboriginal Perspectives” at Brandon University Faculty of Education during the 2008 – 2010 academic terms. Donald (2009), St. Denis (2007), and Williams and Tanaka (2007) report that subtle and overt forms of resistance to mandated courses are displayed when students teachers are compelled to study Aboriginal issues as a requirement for teacher certification. As such, this research is conceptually framed using critical race theory (Bell, 1991; Delgado, 1995; & Dunbar, 2008), Indigenous or Aboriginal feminism (Canella & Manuelito, 2008) and Red Pedagogy (Grande, 2004, 2008). The methodology for this research is primarily phenomenological but articulated using Indigenous storywork (Archibald, 2008) and story (Wilson, 2008). The primary data sources include surveys or questionnaires and semi-structured interviews of students within the course, my personal story as an Aboriginal female professor of the course and the stories of new teachers’ experiences embedded throughout the report. The findings are analyzed using descriptive statistics (frequencies, means and percentages) and comparative statistics (chi-squares and t-tests) for quantitative items on the questionnaires, and constant comparative data analysis methods for open-ended questions on the questionnaires and the interview data. Findings show that the student teachers demonstrated growth in FNMI content and knowledge over both years of the study. The findings also indicate an initial resistance to course content which causes angst for both students and the instructor as students engage with contentious issues, the deconstruction of privilege and examples of institutionalized racism within the educational system. Although more positive attitudes regarding FNMI content, worldviews, pedagogies and people developed over the duration of the course, once student teachers move into the school system, their desire to implement their learning are often challenged by racist attitudes and practices, particularly in schools where administrators do not foster FNMI education. The study concludes by suggesting that the mandate and work that has begun in the Aboriginal Perspectives course is important, necessary work, but it must be sustained across the entire educational system and across the career stages of all teachers in order to change the social attitudes that continue to dominate in schools.
Aboriginal, First Nation, teacher education, racism