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A Greater Sense of ‘We’: Reflections from the AERA

Posted by Samantha Cutrara
23 Avril 2012 - 1:45am

I just returned from my first American Education Research Association and my first trip to Vancouver. It was an exhilarating and inspiring week and wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on some of my learning there. In particular on a discussion of ‘we’ that I think is needed in more conversations about teaching and learning history.

Over the course of the week, I attended a curriculum studies pre-conference, a PD workshop on Critical Race Theory (CRT), and paper sessions on topics such student voice, ethics of care, and, of course, teaching history from the Teaching History Special-Interest-Group (SIG #130). I also attended the opening plenary with Indigenous scholar Linda Tuhiwai Smith and a panel session of Multicultural education 20 years after James Banks defined the “dimensions of multicultural education.”

Throughout most of the sessions there seemed to be an emphasis on thinking about a greater ‘we,’ a greater sense of community, in the culture of education. Many of the scholars stressed that the success of liberalism to make the ‘I’ central, means there is a failure in public discourse to understand and stress the interconnection between people, to learn from and with each other to envision a future with each other, instead of one just for one’s self. However this perspective was everywhere but in the history education sessions.

This conversation of ‘we’ was noticeably absent from many of the history education papers. Perhaps the emphasis on Historical Thinking, an emphasis that Seixas argued would quell the competing narratives part of our multicultural present, perhaps this emphasis has drawn us away from ‘we;’ drawn us away from thinking about the importance of stories and origins to connect us together in a community that is aware, responsive, and empathetic with and for each other.

Yes, Canada as a multicultural nation does have a cacophony of stories that have a different sense of connection with each person, but like Brenda Trofanenko wrote in 2005, that does not have to be associated as a problem, but as an opportunity to think through what nation and nationality means in the past, in the present, and for the future. Canada’s self identity, and it’s grand narrative, is based in an oppressive colonial model; and yes, that is a grand narrative, a collection of myths and stories, that has no sense of ‘we’ that can move us toward a positive and equitable future. It is a problematic narrative that has little place for community building and sense of connection. And it will take work to think through what Canadian histories of ‘we’ will look like. And it will take a collective reflection about the ways we maintain certain stories to our own privilege, especially us white educators who grew up with these stories and see our own family histories within them. But this ‘we’ is key.

Kent den Heyer’s work on French theorist Alain Badiou’s began to hint at this emphasis on a ‘we’ in history education by discussing that there is a ‘terroism’ involved in reducing yourself to the singular without connections to others. Thus in thinking about the hope for an equitable future, we need an understanding of our responsibility to thinking through how are bound up in power and privilege of both the present and the past with and for each other.

Personally I think that this conversation has to begin with the voices of students and taking seriously what they are saying (and also non-verbally communicating) about the histories they need to go forward with a sense of community and connection with and in Canada’s present and future; something I have written about previously. How can we think with and for our students about what a Canadian history designed with a ‘we’ for the future would look like in our classrooms?

*Note on the above picture: I came across this picture while browsing the vintage shops in Vancouver's Gastown. It had no identifying information nor did the shop keeper have any information about how she got it. I was incredibly intrigued by this picture and couldn't help but take it home with me. It is fascinating how our beliefs about Canada obscures its actual past. What would history education look like if we taught it with that class of young people in mind?