Yesterday, my kids came home to find me ON FIRE TO GO TO WAR WITH THE EVILS OF THE WORLD.
(This is a thing that sometimes happens. I remember Anthony once asking Eric what “Manifesto” meant (as I was furiously typing). Eric responding “Manifesto means we are having sandwiches for supper”. That’s how we roll in our house).
Last week, Bronwyn Eyre (the province’s Education Minister) gave a speech in the legislature about how she didn’t like what her son brought home from school so she wants to change the curriculum so that the core stuff is not “watered down” by too much Indigenous content. Which she feels should be it’s own separate thing.
Me: WHICH MEANS YOU COULD LOSE THE WE ARE ALL TREATY PEOPLE CURRICULUM, WHICH YOU VALUE SO MUCH!!!
Anthony: There’s a “We Are All Treaty People” curriculum?
Me: Where you learn about Treaties! And colonialism, and Indigenous History, and—
Anthony gives me a vague look of surprise, probably because he is 12, and when you are 12 you assume that what is taught to you in class is a direct result of what your teacher wakes up and feels like talking about. When he is a teacher, of course, he will talk mostly about the TV series Master Chef, which will make class way more interesting. For some reason, his teachers have all been boringly obsessed with grammar and fractions.
Me: She doesn’t want her son to feel guilty…
Anthony: Why would her son feel guilty?
Me: Don’t you feel guilty?
There is a pause, in which Anthony stares at me in confusion.
Anthony: Why would I feel guilty? I didn’t do that stuff. I wasn’t there.
Me: I felt guilty.
There is a second pause, in which Anthony clearly is entertaining the possibility that maybe I did do some of that stuff because I’m really really old.
Me: I didn’t do the residential school stuff, but I participate in a society that isn’t fair yet. I carry privilege, and—
Eric: Mom, the point of that stuff isn’t to feel guilty. You didn’t create it that way, you inherited it. And you need to learn about it to move forward. Like, how dad is trying to provide good medicine to people, but for Indigenous people to get good health care, we need doctors who understand their cultural context. It’s just part of what kids need to know for whatever we’re gonna grow up to be. Like math and writing and all that.
Me: Which is why it needs to be INTEGRATED, rather than it’s own separate course.
Eric <in a “duh” voice>: Well of course it has to be integrated.
Anthony <giggling>: What are we gonna do, have “real” history of white people, and then a separate course for Indigenous people?
Me: We used to do it that way.
Anthony is not surprised by that. We used to separate by race all the time…. Drinking fountains and public busses. History is filled with idiots.
Me: They’re thinking of doing it that way again. Of taking the Indigenous stuff out of the core curriculum.
Anthony <sits bolt upright>: What? They can’t do that! We’re gonna need that stuff!
His reaction is of practical worry. As though I told him they were thinking of cancelling driver’s ed. He has places he wants to go, and he’s gonna need skills to get there. I latch on to his worry, and monologue for a while about the evils of the Education Ministers’ perspective, and how there is no way that her son actually brought home course materials saying all settlers were evil.
Eric: I don’t know, mom. I can see how that could have happened. I mean, when I was in grade eight, we looked at history through several angles. Because the cultures were so separate, we went through each perspective in turn. Taken out of context, I can see how if she only looked at one part of it she could think her kid was being taught that settlers were monsters. That’s one of the perspectives that gets covered.
Me: SHE’S THE EDUCATION MINISTER. IT’S HER JOB TO KNOW THE CONTEXT.
Eric: People can have emotional reactions to this stuff, though, mom. Like, when I did that blanket exercise at that conference, I felt a lot of pain. It makes it hard to think, and listen well. Sometimes you jump to being defensive. Even the Education Minister is a person, carrying her own story like anyone.
At first, this point does not sink in. I am too busy preparing acid attacks, planning to satirize her speech by replacing “Indigenous” with “women’s” and proposing an entire separate class for the female perspective, to keep the “real” male history from being diluted. I am too busy working on hashtags to think about why she might be feeling defensive.
This does not bother Eric, who is thoughtfully pondering his own ideas.
Eric suggests that the Ministry should hear from a variety of students who have been through the curriculum. He begins plans for a sheet to take to school on Monday, to offer to his classmates so that they can phone in and talk directly to the Ministry as it makes it’s decisions.
His approach is compassionate and gentle. He is more focused on educating and equipping than on attacks and political maneuvering.
I admire his approach. I wish I could tell you that he learned it from me, but it’s very obvious that he didn’t. I am no more equipped to teach him how to be non-reactive and sit with people as they process this hard stuff than I am able to teach him the quadratic equation. That’s why we have curriculum. This is the whole point. To equip the next generation with skills we didn’t have.
Me: This cultural stuff is hard.
Anthony: Don’t feel bad, mom. It’s easier for me and Eric. We’ve been doing this stuff since grade one, and it’s so much easier when you do it that way. Like skiing. Remember how we are so much better than you at skiing? But not because you suck or anything, but because we learned when we were little?
I do remember. Anthony would blaze down the slope without thought or fear, riding on the wings of what I assumed was bravery. Then, I saw him fall a couple of times. For him, it wasn’t falling so much as bouncing—he was so close to the ground. So flexible. Fresh out of learning to walk, he could easily add biking and skiing and whatever else to his list of ways to move through the world.
We need kids like that. We need doctors that know that walking into St Paul’s ER means walking into a room that looks, sounds, and most importantly smells exactly like a residential school. We need lawyers and judges that understand that there are a lot of ways to do justice, and that retribution based systems are only one of the available options. We need mental health councillors who understand the power of sweat lodges and time outside on the land. And we need people who understand what it's like to switch cultural perspectives and take privilege into account and keep from going defensive.
And we don’t just need it because we want to be fair to all the peoples of this province. We need it because kids who can switch cultural perspectives and word views to suit the task are like kids who can switch from running to bikes to skis. They can move through different terrain. They can go farther. They can forge different connections.
I want my kids to have that. I want all kids to have that. I want this entire province to be filled with a whole generation that has that. Because it’s important like math and grammar. It’s a core skill.