Teaching Contested Spaces

  • Anne Burke (Editor), Ingrid Johnston (Editor) and Angela Ward (Editor)
    Challenging Stories: Canadian Literature for Social Justice in the Classroom. Canadian Scholars' Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
  • Sylvia Moore
    Trickster Chases the Tale of Education. McGill-Queen's University Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)

Both Challenging Stories: Canadian Literature for Social Justice in the Classroom and Trickster Chases the Tale of Education aim to lead change in education to better meet the learning needs of multicultural students in Canada. In Challenging Stories, Anne Burke, Ingrid Johnston, and Angela Ward provide readers with a well-organized account of a study in which Canadian educators collaborate to select multicultural texts to promote social justice in K-12 classrooms, and then describe their experiences using these texts. Burke, Johnston, and Ward are scholars, educators, and authors who promote diversity and social justice in education. This work is a follow up to a previous text about “[t]he ideological representations of Canadian identity perceived in Canadian multicultural and social justice picture books.” This book serves to support teachers with the implementation of “[t]heir goals of social justice education.” The audience of the text is students in teacher-education programs. The book serves the intended audience well: in broad strokes, the text gives an overview of the ins and outs of choosing Canadian literary texts to raise awareness of social issues. It discusses selecting activities to promote engagement with the works, and navigating challenging issues to foster empathy in students for people who have been oppressed.

The book is divided into three sections and details the highlights of the study. What the book does well is integrate education theory and research on using multicultural resources into classroom practice. It spells out the reflective practice of the teachers by delineating their fears and concerns about adopting their chosen texts within the schools’ communities. It gives practical advice on how to incorporate the texts into learning activities and assignments. Chapter 6 does an exceptionally good job at including examples of student comments and student work.

The chapter summaries were somewhat uneven in that the writers sometimes shift from their declared intentions at the beginning to what they conclude at the end. The terms the teachers used were subjective and did not include the students’ voices. What I would have liked to see in the book was an incorporation of action research in measuring the outcomes of the study, in the form of, for example, student questionnaires on empathy conducted before and after the units. However, each chapter does provide some discussion questions for the audience to consider. Overall, the book provides concrete, specific guidance and support for teachers-in-training to implement challenging literary texts in their course curricula. It offers exemplars of multicultural education from a variety of Canadian regions, from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island. I would recommend this book to be part of teacher training throughout Canada.

Trickster Chases the Tale of Education, by Sylvia Moore, is a more theoretical text on what it would mean to incorporate an Indigenous worldview into a mainstream Canadian educational institution. Both educators and education policy-makers alike should read this book. Moore provides a comprehensive bibliography of Indigenous scholars and thinkers and incorporates their ideas in very accessible prose. She also includes “conversations” she has with the figures of Crow and Weasel. Through these intratextual insertions, Moore privileges story over exposition. She grapples with her location and positioning as a Mi’kmaq community member and her role as a Western scholar. She also leaves plenty of space for silence. It is the silence that intrigues me the most, although I was puzzled by the ambiguity of Moore’s ending, and this curiosity led to my researching the school’s website. The website features a mascot of a Spartan figurehead, and nowhere does the school acknowledge the unceded land on which it sits. I found a friendly reminder to parents of a parent meeting. Students who finish their exams at noon can leave the school only if their parents have a car. Students who are essentialized as being “Not in Good Standing are incarcerated in room 227 and not allowed to participate in extracurricular activities until released by their classroom teacher.” No wonder Moore concludes her book with questions: “‘Did you ever hear the story about the people and the salmon?’  . . . And then he begins . . . ‘Is anybody listening?’”

This review “Teaching Contested Spaces” originally appeared in Lost and Found Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 236 (2018): 128-129.

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