Instruments of our success?

I’ve just watched Reds, Whites and the Blues on CBC TV, described as “Four savvy teenagers from the Rez take us to their White high schools and show us why most native kids don’t graduate.” I watched four kids record video for several months as they go through school. What struck me was that these are intelligent and articulate kids but they don’t connect to the school. As one boy says, “I’m proud to be Chief Dan George’s great, great grandson … and he stood for education.” But the school system is not designed to encourage connections and there is no connection between this First Nation and the public school system; they are separate worlds.

Their stories once again reminded me of Roger Schank’s Student Bill of Rights. Almost everything that we see in this documentary by Duncan McCue breaks an article of the bill of rights, particularly these three:

Clarity of Goals: No student should be required to take a course, the results of which are not directly related to a goal held by the student, nor to engage in an activity without knowing what he can expect to gain from that activity.

Passivity: No student should be required to spend time passively watching or listening to anything unless there is a longer period of time devoted to allowing the student to participate in a corresponding active activity.

Arbitrary Standards: No student should be required to prepare his work in ways that are arbitrary or to jump through arbitrary hoops defined only by a particular teacher and not by the society at large.

Duncan says that teachers have no skills in how to teach native kids, but I think that part of the problem is that “One size fits nobody” and the system’s defects are just more evident here. The choice for these kids is to conform or else. With everything that we purport to know about pedagogy and neuro-science, can’t we create better learning environments than this? Do students have to write arbitrary exams to be certified as successful, and if they fail they’re branded as losers for life?

Chief Dan George said in 1967, “Oh, God! Like the Thunderbird of old I shall rise again out of the sea; I shall grab the instruments of the white man’s success—his education, his skills, and with these new tools I shall build my race into the proudest segment of your society.” However, I’m not sure if the instruments of our success are worth taking.

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