RTIE: Journal Reflections #5: Question: Given this is a difficult and sensitive history, what can we introduce to students, in the curriculum of schools, or within our teaching practices?

My response: I think this is an important question, because our automatic response would probably be to introduce it very gently when the children are young, and then build upon it year by year, as they get older and can “handle it” better (and this would certainly be an improvement over the traditional “First Nations unit” in grade 5 or so, which focuses mostly on a sanitized–even imaginary–version of how people lived “long ago and far away.”).

But I wonder? If we start out TOO gently, does it become only “a nice story” (as children used to be introduced to “Bible stories,” with the “nasty parts” between or even within the stories ignored–and as Disney does with fairy tales), and so when we do introduce the more difficult questions later on, have we already reduced the issue to “just story”?

I suspect children are far more capable of handling “issues” that we imagine them to be, simply because every child faces issues in his or her real life. I suspect also that having children listen to, and be allowed to interact with and ask honest questions of, real people who’ve experienced the residential school system, or who at least have grown up in families and communities affected by those experiences, is far more effective than simply showing pictures and perhaps a few artifacts, and having a “classroom discussion.”

Burying the “issues” until the children are “older and can handle it” is dishonest–and leads to a belief (whether conscious or not) that burying difficult issues is the best way to handle them, and this is carried into other aspects of their lives as well. I certainly see this in my own family, in relation to residential school experiences, and if this happens to those who are directly affected, how much more will it happen for those who do not have direct experience, if they come to believe, as young children at school, that it is “just a story,” perhaps a slightly sad one, or a story far removed from their real lives–even if later on, we try to convince them that there is more to it?

Note: This is a response to an assignment in a course I took in spring 2015 from UBC/EdX called “Reconciliation Through Indigenous Education.”

A comment sent to me by email:

Just read your post. Appreciated your viewpoint. What I’d like to add is that 1st hand interaction between students (children) and those affected directly by residential schools in a positive /negative way (as experiences were different) would deepen the lesson in regards to what is the meaning of respect and compassion amongst all people.

I’m in agreement what happened was wrong. The greatest lesson to be learned is that both sides of any wrongdoing need to dialogue, to understand the other’s perspective, apologize with sincerity and compassion and agree to better the relationship.

It is good for children to be taught and experience brokenness.  More important they need to be given the tools for reconciliation,  healing and growth. They need to be taught how to grow into better, stronger people from the brokenness of their experience.

Where there is anger bitterness or hostility, no healing can occur. My goal is for healing and reconciliation in all my relationships.  With our Lord’s grace it is possible.

I pray for that in your life, your family’s life and all those so deeply hurt by their experience of residential schools.

Your brokenness is the very vehicle for you and all affected to teach us how to be better people in our relationships.

May our Lord bless you and guide you on your journey.
Ivy Claire Fraser
(author of “A True Canadian” poem on this website)