The teaching of residential schools seems to always be a touchy subject. I think that this is because it is a topic that can make us feel uncomfortable. I believe that as teachers we often want to appear confident and comfortable when discussing a topic. While this is a good goal to have it is not always a realistic one. While I wasn’t able to attend the lecture (I watched the video after) I think of the title of Pam Palmater’s recent lecture at the University of Regina, If It Feels Good, It’s Not Reconciliation. We need to teach these tough subjects as teachers, otherwise, we are not doing our job in helping our students to be better people and to be able to contribute to the reconciliation process.
I really enjoyed the activity from this presentation where we compared a day in the life of someone at a residential school with that of our own during elementary school. I remember complaining to both my parents and I’m sure to my teachers about how hard my life and my day was. This, in fact, could not have been further from the truth. I had a meal when I woke up, at lunch, a snack when I got home from school, and a meal when my dad got home from work. After supper, I would have had one of the many sporting events that I participated in. During the day I went to a school where I could, for the most part, say and do whatever I wanted. I never had to worry about being physically, sexually, or emotionally assaulted. Nor did I have to wake up early to farm, clean or cook for people I barely knew and in many cases was not allowed to talk to. The horror that the students at these schools are unspeakable. But it is essential that we discuss these tough topics with our students. I think we need to be aware of the level of detail we get into in younger grades. That being said they need to be aware that these were not good situations. As we move into older grades, I think the level of detail that we get into can progress along as well. It is essential that we ensure that we have a safe space for our students to discuss these tough topics.
Another important thing to ensure is that we are not putting any students on the spot. Often times we single out students based on their gender or ethnicity and assume that they have more knowledge or experience about the subject. We should never force a student to speak on a topic such as this one or assume that they have personal experience with the topic.