Saturday, June 7, 2014

What is learning for?

First People's House in the middle of the beautiful University of Victoria campus... 
the place I learned from Dr. Lorna Williams

I was most fortunate to have been invited to participate in the 54th Canadian Commission to UNESCO Annual General Meeting this weekend in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Part of this coming together with a fascinating and intelligent group of big thinkers provided me the opportunity to listen to Dr. Lorna Williams, chair of the First Peoples Cultural Council and powerful advocate for Indigenous languages. She is a member of the Lil'wat First Nation of Mount Currie. She recently retired from her position as Associate Professor in Indigenous Education and Indigenous language revitalization and Canada Research Chair, Indigenous knowledge and learning at the University of Victoria. She has also worked at the Ministry of Education in BC, in schools on behalf of Aboriginal students, written children's books, co-directed the video series called First Nations: The Circle Unbroken and developed teacher's guides and Lil'wat language curriculum, a language that was exclusively oral until 1973. Not bad for a person who was labeled as "retarded" upon entering middle school.

I had never met Dr. Williams before yesterday, but her message resonated for me in a way that makes me feel that I've been learning from her for years. During her address to the delegation of UNESCO representatives and other stakeholders doing the ground work on behalf of UNESCO and UNESCO ideals she spoke about her learning story. As an Indigenous person Dr. Williams has dealt successfully with many challenges to her learning story, but that is for her to tell. I want to focus on two pieces of wisdom that she shared. Her perspective toward learning and the way she described working in environments lacking support instantly became part of my learning story. The following was one of her slides...

What is learning for?
-Dr. Lorna Williams
  • Identity; who I am and where do I fit in?
  • Habits to care for self, family, land, community
  • Practices- learn from others and self
  • Values
  • Worldview
  • What is known and how do I know I learn
  • Learn to be a 'good human being', to have good hands 
It seems to me that in an era of education where things are changing so quickly in the world, that we need grounding perspectives; elements that are universal and all encompassing with respect to curricula that has to become more fluid and responsive as ways of knowing or knowledge systems evolve. I hope we accept as educators that curriculum content choices cannot sustain over as long a period of time as they once did. Elements of knowledge content need more frequent review and change to remain relevant. That being said, a solid and supporting foundation of purpose is necessary to support these changing curricular contexts. Dr. William's thoughts on purpose of learning strike me as a brilliant foundation.
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