Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Canadian educator on teaching Aboriginal history

Ben Sichel is a progressive Canadian secondary school teacher who put up a post on his blog about the ethics of a non-Indigneous Canadian teaching Canadian Aboriginal history.

I won't copy the whole post in here, but I recommend you access it on his blog, where you can also look at a range of other topics he has dealt with:

The only thing I took issue with is the use of the term "settler" which I think we all need to challenge.  At the March 4 rally in Adelaide, I urged anyone with kids at school or who was at school themselves, to bring home any history text books (a disappearing artefact in any case) and go through and cross out the words "settle" and "settlement" and write in over the top of them "unsettler" and "unsettlement".  I said they were not acts of vandalism or of damage to history textbooks. They were necessary corrections to the vandalism and damage done to history by words that carry loaded meanings.

I put the following comment on Ben's post:

Ben – I’ve just finished reading the reprint of this post in Our Schools Our Selves.  I work at the Australian Education Union in South Australia.  One other approach you might like to use is to work with your kids to examine just how loaded the word “settler” is.  How often have you, as a teacher, called on a class to “settle down”.  To “settle” implies the positive action of bringing calm and order to a situation that is disorganised and out of control.  To refer to white invaders of First Nations lands as “settlers” (as mine were in 1839, three years after the foundation of South Australia) is to confer on them a benign title at odds with colonisation and displacement.  How can colonisation “settle” communities that were stable, sustainable and organised?  I have asked my students to read “unsettler” for “settler” and “unsettlement” for “settlement” out of respect for the settled communities that were disrupted and torn apart by colonisation.

I’ve also taken students outside to do the “brick count”.  Aboriginal Australians are known to have occupied this continent for somewhere between 50-60,000 years before unsettlement.  Students often don’t relate to that enormous span of time in any concrete conceptual way.  So we take a school building with a nice long wall and assign 1000 years to every brick, choose a starting point, and then walk the length of 50 bricks in the wall.  When we get to the last one, we divide it into fifths.  That roughly represents the slightly more than 200 years of European unsettlement.  It helps the kids see the significance of talking about “the world’s oldest continuous culture” and what Aboriginal Australians are entitled to take pride in and to protect.

Anyway, just wanted to share those two things with you and to thank you for your article.

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