How A Novel About Clones Helped Me To Process The RIIS Cemetery.

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It was a Wednesday afternoon a few weeks ago when myself and some of my STARS cohorts decided to join another university class in a visit to a special patch of land just west of Regina. We arrived at 701 Pinkie Road, and as we stepped out of the car into the open field we were met with unbroken heavy winds that surged through he -3 air. Light hail nipped at our jackets, and we all felt a little underdressed for this excursion. We stood under grey skies that muted the colours of the world around us. I couldn’t help but think that the discomfort that the blustery whether brought was probably appropriate. This wasn’t supposed to be a comfortable experience. Grieving the past never is.

We approached a small fenced area, about the same size as an average backyard. Beyond the fenced boundary lay acres of featureless prairie, set against of background of skyscrapers, dwarfed by the enormous saskatchewan sky. Inside the fence was flat ground, a few trees, and some brush. Along the fence posts, and littered on the ground were stuff animals, plastic flowers, and other trinkets. Worn and weathered, these relics were intentionally placed above the earth to commemorate what lay beneath it: the remains of approximately 30 students who attended the Regina Residential Indian Industrial School. They function, I imagine, as stand-in headstones for graves that would otherwise be unmarked.

As I took in the sight, and pondered the significance of what I was seeing, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the final paragraph from my favourite novel, which I had just finished rereading a week before. “Never Let Me Go” by Japanese-British author Kazuo Ishiguro, is a book about a 31 year old Kathy H who recalls her days growing up at an English boarding school called Hailsham. After a few clues are dropped, we find out about a third of the way through the novel that Kathy, along with all the students of this school, are clones who are being raised so that their organs can be harvested in order to prolong the life of “normals”. I have written a few university assignments justifying why a novel study of this book would be a good compliment to a study of the history of residential schools. There are many parallels between the dystopian reality Never Let Me Go’s characters live in and Canada’s history with colonialism. Parallels that are both overt and subtle. The themes of the book are memory, place, self-determination, justice, and identity. All things we ponder when remembering our history.

The final scene of the book places Kathy two weeks after her last friend (and love) has “completed”. This is the term used for clones who have died whilst making an organ donation. Kathy has only her memories to keep her company now, and she is now herself preparing for the first of many donations that will end her short life. On her way to a donation centre she parks her car on a road in the country side and takes a moment to grieve her completed classmates.

“I found I was standing before acres of ploughed earth. There was a fence keeping me from stepping into the field… and I could see how this fence and the cluster of three or four trees above me were the only things breaking the wind for miles. All along the fence, all sorts of rubbish had caught and tangled. That was the only time, as I stood there, looking at that strange rubbish, feeling the wind coming across those empty fields, that I started to imagine just a little fantasy thing… I was thinking about the rubbish, the flapping plastic in the branches, the shore-line of odd stuff caught along the fencing, and I half-closed my eyes and imagined this was the spot where everything I’d ever lost since my childhood had washed up, and I was now standing here in front of it.” (Ishiguro, 2005, p.287)

This picture that Ishiguro paints in the final paragraph of his novel is nearly identical to what lay before my eyes in that blustery field. Except, instead of acres of ploughed earth, a symbolic grave for Kathy’s organ harvested class mates, I saw maybe 1000 square feet of literal grave.

Mike gave a short introduction to this history of the school that no longer stood here, and the current challenges with maintaining this space.

The Regina Indian Industrial School (RIIS) operated from 1891-1911. This location was viewed as a model for Residential schools across Canada. One that other schools should aspire to. Residential schools existed as one of many assimilation initiatives by the Canadian government. For more than 100 years students were placed in schools far from their homes, where the goal was to prepare them for mainstream Canadian culture. This was done by forbidding many things that were tied to Indigenous identity, such as language, spirituality, traditions and cultural approaches to family and provision. Conditions at these schools were abhorrent, and abuse of every fashion occurred within their walls. During it’s 20 year run, RIIS schooled approximately 500 students, and it is believed that nearly 100 died during their time there.

In the same way that the clones in Never Let Me Go are robbed of organs they need to survive, First Nations people were robbed of their language, spirituality, practices, and customs, which they needed to survive as a culture. If “Kill the Indian, save the child” was the agenda of Canadian residential schools, then it could be understood that “Kill the clone, save the organs” was the agenda of the donations program in Never Let Me Go.

Mike concluded his talk by opening up a container of apples. He said that Joseph, the resident Elder of the U of R, suggested bringing a treat for the kids. We each took a piece and proceeded onto the grounds. I think we all felt very reverent as we walked wondered the space. People began finding whatever landmark they could that represented a child’s resting place and started doing their thing. Praying, reflecting, mourning.

I found a lone doll propped up against a post and tried to imagine the girl who lay beneath. I tried to remember her is if I knew her. I tried to imagine the homesickness she must have felt at the school. I tried to think of the happy memories of home that she must have clung to during those times. The small comforts brought by friendships formed with fellow students who shared a common anguish. I wondered what she wanted to be when she grew up, and if she believed she could be that. And I wondered if there was a moment before her death were she realized she we not grow up to be that or anything else, and that she would not see home again, or feel the love that is transmitted through the embrace of family.

In all my imaginings and wonderings I’m sure I fell short.

As I sat there pondering these things, the roads of my thought lead me to another excerpt from Never Let Me Go. Kathy recounts an incident from her childhood at Hailsham. Thinking she is alone in her dorm, she listens to a song and interprets the lyrics to be telling the story of a woman who is told she can’t have babies, but then does, so she holds the baby close, cherishing it, never wanting to let it go. Being a clone, Kathy won’t be able to make babies. She role-plays the woman imagined in the song by cradling a pillow, and swaying to the music with it in her arms. Kathy turns around and finds that Madame (one of the humans in charge of Hailsham) is watching her, transfixed, and weeping. Years later, as an adult, Kathy seeks out Madame, and asks her to explain why she cried at the sight:

“I was weeping for an altogether different reason. When I watched you dancing that day, I saw something else. I saw a new world coming rapidly. More scientific, efficient, yes. More cures for the old sicknesses. Very good. But a harsh, cruel world. And I saw a little girl, her eyes tightly closed, holding to her breast the old kind world, one that she knew in her heart could not remain, and she was holding it and pleading, never to let her go…I saw you and it broke my heart. And I’ve never forgotten.”

This poignant experience made me long for what Madame saw in Kathy. Optimistically, I like to believe our story is the inverse of the one in Never Let Me Go. I like to believe that through changes in attitudes, through deeper understanding of the effects of colonialism, and through these acts of remembrance, that the harsh cruel world is the one that will not remain. That we will see a new kinder world rapidly coming. But in order to do that we need to press into remembrance and press into calls to action.

We want to have the site commemorated and protected from development projects so that these students will never be forgotten. In addition to the work already being done by the Commemorative Association INC, Project of Heart, RIIS Media Project, we also have started a petition to present to Mayor Fougeres. Please take the time to sign it.

#RIISup

 

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Digital Drawing with the iPad Pro

As some of you may read on my twitter account, I recently invested in the new 9.7 inch iPad pro. I’ve never had a tablet before, but this Learning Project where I learn more about digital art has really begun to surged my interest in it, so I decided to upgrade from my $60 Wacom Drawing Tablet to an Apple Pencil outfitted iPad.

I’ve only drawn one thing so far but I’m already wowed by how much better this is. The Pencil is much more precise and responsive than what I was using before. Plus the added benefit of drawing right on the screen like you would on a piece of paper makes the whole experience feel a lot more natural. But I don’t want this post to turn into a product review, so before I move onto explaining the learning process for what I drew, I’ll just say that my mind is swimming with all kinds of ideas of how to integrate the iPad and pencil into the classroom. For example, using the Mirror App, you can wirelessly screen cast an iPad onto a smart board. With the pencil you could simply do all your whiteboard writing on the tablet and have it show up on the smart board. No need to write on the board with your back to the class, you can write on the tablet facing your students to gauge their understanding, or stand at the back of the class and see the board from their perspective.

The last few days I’ve been working on realistic facial proportions. The best way to start this, I knew, would be to start with a straight on angle of the face, then work on more dynamic angles.

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A small snippet of the exceptional tutorial “How To Go From Manga To Realistic” I studied for this drawing. Put together by the very thorough FOERVRAENGD.

One thing I’ve learned about drawing realistic anatomy is how mathematical it is. In the tutorial above, you can see that a grid is applied to help map out the proportions and maintain symmetry. Every face starts with a circle to form the upper half of the head. A ‘V’ then extends from the bottom of the circle, which both helps to frame the lower half of the face, and it also shows you were the cheek bones would be. Every feature of the face, eyes, nose, mouth, has it’s place along the grid. Essentially every feature has a fixed adjacency to every other feature. So if you’ve done a good job at placing one eye, then the next should be easy, which will then make placing the nose a simple matter of finding their half way points (the tip of the nose is half way between the eyes and the chin, and the mouth is half way between the tip of the nose and the chin).

Below you can watch my application of the grid to draw a face in the video below. I drew this in Procreate, an app for the iPad. I’m used to doing all my drawings in Adobe Photoshop CS6, but I’m finding that Procreate is way better for my purposes. It’s much more user friendly and  it was only $8 in the app store vs the many hundreds of dollars Adobe Suite costs (something that would be much easier for a classroom to invest in). Plus it has a nifty feature where it records you drawing so that I can share the process with all of you!

Looking ahead, I’m not confident that I’ll meet all my goals for what I want to learn in this project, but I’m okay with that because I’ve learned a great deal of things that weren’t on my list of goals (but if I could revise that list they definitely would be). Even though I probably don’t know as much about how to draw realistic human anatomy as I wish I did by now, I’ve learned a lot about the practice of digital art itself. The resources that are out there, the different apps, the different processes, the communities, are all discoveries that have unexpectedly enriched my learning and have succeeded in hooking my into this art form that I will definitely be continuing long after this class is over. These extra learnings that don’t necessarily line up with my learning goals also seem to be a lot more relevant to my role as an educator, so I’m delighted with where the project is headed.

An Update on learning to draw

Here’s a bit of a look at some of the things I’ve been doing in the last few weeks. I’m not going to attempt to display all of the images I’ve been working on. The main reason for this is that the process in to nailing a technique in drawing has proven to require a lot of drawing the same thing over and over again, almost like drilling. I’ve accumulated pages (both paper and digital) that are full of the same shape over and over again. Below is one such example. Here I’m at the very start of a tutorial on an eye. Honestly, this phase of the drawing was the most time consuming and frustrating. I couldn’t find a pencil or brush that would give the effect I wanted which was something that looked more calligraphy-like instead of a pencil sketch look. Getting the shape right was difficult too. Ultimately I think most of my frustrations stemmed from me not being able to trust the process that the tutorial was laying out for me. I was so caught up in a brush to make the outline which ultimately wasn’t going to be visible by the time the work was done anyway. It came down to the fact that that I wanted each phase of my drawing to look like each phase in the tutorial, and which I learned isn’t all that necessary to making it look close to the finished product.

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This next picture is from the tutorial I worked from. The picture under it is what I begrudgingly settled on for the outline of my eye. Pretty not good, hey?

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I decided to push forward with the tutorial, and if you do your best to follow each phase there is plenty of opportunity for a “smoothing of the rough edges” so to speak.  If you look at the first phase of the tutorial below you’ll see that the outline is not present in the final phase because it’s undergone so much much change in the subsequent phases.

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The tutorial I followed Via Ryky

 

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By the time I got to the end of the tutorial I was actually pretty proud of how my eye turned out, and it was probably the best thing I had ever painted so far.

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Here’s another eye I did. I actually did this one before the coloured eye. As you can see my approach with this project is to start small with one body part and work my way out front there. First I did just an iris, then I moved onto a full eye and surrounding skin. Next I’ll move out into a full face which will be a whole new ball game.  Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 2.30.39 AM.png

 

Eduction. Identity. Forgiveness. Reconciliation.

Last week I tuned in on a live stream of the Honourable Justice Sinclair’s lecture on residential schools at the University of Regina. He is a well respected figure and for good reason. Being the Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the first aboriginal judge in saskatchewan, the level of wisdom and perspective that was so eloquently communicated was like nothing I had witnessed in my education. The house was packed so I sat outside the auditorium watching the lecture on my computer. As people were coming in, filling up the auditorium and then the overflow seating after, there was a real sense of anticipation in the air. I could feel as he was speaking there was a spirit of “leaning in” from all the spectators as they felt guaranteed that the recipe for a future era of reconciliation was being delivered on Sinclair’s words. A formula so elusive, so complex, and so needed, required the full attention of all of our senses. There was two areas of his talk that stood out to me: 1) His discussion on the responsibility education has to help the child answer questions about themselves. 2) Forgiveness as not essential to reconciliation.

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Justice Murray Sinclair lecturing at the U of R. Photo Via CBC.ca 

  1. Identity: the following is quote is composed various statements throughout the lecture that have been abridged into one statement. “Less than 50% were abused in Residential Schools. But all were abused in some way, either emotionally or mentally. They were taught that there was no hope in maintaining their identity and that their only hope was to be part of Canadian society. The most important question we engage with in our lives is ‘where do I belong’ which is composed of four questions:

Where do I come from?

Where I am I going?

Why am I here?

Who am I?

The ability to answer those questions has been impaired by the legacy of Residential Schools. It has also impaired the ability of non-aboriginal children, the way that our school system has educated us about aboriginal people or about the history of this country.”

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Very cool work by Yuri Shwedoff that reminded me of the “Education Is Our Buffalo” slogan that the Alberta ministry of education uses. A youth mourning a dead buffalo is perhaps a fitting analogy for the legacy of Residential Schools.

Sinclair really hits the nail on the head when he draws a correlation between education and developing identity. Not only did Residential Schools fail in their mission to have First Nations people abandon one identity for the other, but they they also failed in the mission of education. It’s important to always keep a critical reflective disposition as educators. We must always ask ourselves if what we’re doing is going to help our students answer those questions.

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A Digital Painting I did about a year ago as part of an Inquiry Project for ESST 317 inspired by the famous before and after photos of Thomas Moore.

 

2. Forgiveness: One thing that I’ve been reflecting on in the week since the lecture was Sinclair’s statement about forgiveness not being a necessary part of reconciliation. The comment intrigued me because I always figured reconciliation and forgiveness were synonymous. Eventually, Sinclair’s comments about the statement made by a church is what helped me to realize that maybe definitions of forgiveness aren’t universal. “We admit that our priests have abused you. We acknowledge our sin. So now you must forgive us or you’ll go to hell.” Like the priests, my a understanding of forgiveness is also influenced a background of christianity, yet, my definition is starkly different from that of the priests.

Forgiveness, by definition, is never owed. When you are wronged, you are not obligated to forgive, it is your right to do what you want with the injury you’ve sustained. You can keep it or release yourself from it. However, if you want to release yourself from the injury, forgiveness is a requirement. Forgiveness is less about setting the other person free and more about setting yourself free. Forgiveness doesn’t mean trusting again, or being friends again. It is just about saying ‘I’m not going to let the hurt you caused me define who I am, or my journey from here on out’. But doing this means that you also aren’t going to let that hurt define who they are, or control their journey. Forgiveness says ‘you owe me a debt that I am waiving my right to collect on’. Consequently, forgiveness does not require the validation of the person you are forgiving, or their admission that they need it at all.

After happening upon Portraits of Reconciliation, a collection of stories of reconciliation between Hutu perpetrators and Tutsi survivors of the Rwanda genocide, I began to realize that reconciliation perhaps requires a bit more, or at least some different ingredients than  forgiveness. 1) Reconciliation is less about leaving something behind, and more about moving forward towards something else. 2) Unlike forgiveness, reconciliation needs to be a two-way street, which means perpetrators do need to acknowledge wrong doing. 3) While forgiveness does not imply the restoration of trust, reconciliation likely will. 4) The success of forgiveness is sometimes measured to the degree to which one can forget the injury. Forgetting is not a luxury Reconciliation can afford.

Reconciliation and forgiveness often turn up hand-in-hand but they aren’t the same, and therefor will sometimes operate independently from each other. Sinclair emphasized the importance of reconciliation as the vehicle for moving forward. I think forgiveness is for each individual to consider, but on the systemic level we must continue to apply the principles of reconciliation.

There’s a hopeful irony when we talk about the importance of education in achieving these goals, because although education was once the tool used to try to depreciate First Nations culture, it is also the thing from which we must try and build a culture of reconciliation.

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“Let the Future Begin” is another painting I did in photoshop for the same project as stated above.

How did I not know about RSS readers before?

In his TED talk, Tom Uglow says “we’re not addicted to devices, we’re addicted to the information that flows through them.” If this is true then RSS readers might be the biggest enablers on the internet. Our task for this week in ECMP 355 was to shop around for an RSS reader, a nifty little platform that aggregates all of your blog and news subscriptions into one place. I ask how I didn’t know about these before in the title because, being someone who does a lot of reading on the internet from a score of sources on a variety of topics, this is something I’ve been looking for that I didn’t know I was looking for.

After consulting some “Top 10 RSS Readers” articles courtesy of google search, I settled on Feedly, simply because they were at the top of almost every list. After plugging in all my usual publications I began to shop for new, education related blogs to follow. Ultimately I populated most of my feed with blogs recommended by Feedly it’s self. It has a really nice layout where it tells you how many subscribers the publication has along with how often they post an article. I also used with the two lists we were give in class which are The 50 Best Blogs for Future Teachers and Teach 100 – Top Educational blogs. These lists were decent starting points, but with so much to choose from that I quickly discovered I needed to come up with a criteria to prevent me from hitting the subscribe button on every blog.

1. Blog must have at least one post from the current school year.

A lot of the blogs on the two lists had domains that hadn’t published anything new since 2012. Some just fizzled out while others had official final posts stating that the weren’t going to post anymore. Some of the guidelines and recommendations I came across by other blog consumers stated that they don’t follow a blog if a post hasn’t been made within the last 30 days. So I figured my own standard here was pretty lenient.

I’m sure the content on these expired blogs is good, but I think it’s important that if I try to engage the author in a discussion in the comment section, that they’re going to respond, and that it will be a recent enough post that it will be something that they are still thinking about.

2. EVERY blog post must be about becoming a better teacher.

This was another step to try and eliminate unfocused content from filling up my feed. For example, one of the principal’s blogs on the top 50 list had a lot of posts that didn’t seem in-line with the purpose of the blog. There were solid posts too, but I only want blogs that have %100 solid posts. Otherwise I’m not going to like going on Feedly. There were posts congratulating his school’s girls volleyball team for defeating some other school’s girls volleyball team. A lot of “morning announcement” type of material. How is knowing your school’s team beat the other team going to help me become a more culturally responsive, self-aware, thoroughly equipped teacher? Maybe if the post was about the progressive coaching, or the strategies used to build a strong team culture that helped secure their victory, the post would have been more worth a read. But it wasn’t. So….NEXT.

3. Posts should be concerned with either Canadian education or not specific to a nation at all.

Another thing I steered clear from were blogs that spent a lot of posts contemplating the American education system (there was a lot of these on the lists). Sure, our Canadian education system might suffer from some of the same ailments as America’s, but at the end of the day we’re still a pretty distinct culture from them. Each country may require different solutions to similar problems. We’re also seven spots ahead of the US in the global rankings on education systems, so if I’m wanting to learn more about a specific nation’s discourse on education, I would probably be looking to Finland or the UK.

Two standout sources: Medium & Mindshift

I briefly talked about Medium in my last blog post, but this was one source that I couldn’t wait to plug into Feedly. Medium has basically single handedly raised the quality of the content I read. I spend way less time scrolling through the short anecdotes on my Facebook feed now, and am spending a lot more time engage in really interesting, challenging, and thought provoking writing pieces.  I like Medium because it’s not just one author but thousands, each one writing about whatever they feel like. Quality articles are voted to your feed based on the amount of recommends it gets. These articles also give the reader the ability to highlight within the article and shows the highlights of other readers as well. You get the content you want by subscribing to tags, to which I follow Education ReformEdtech, Teaching, Social Justice, Self Improvement, along with about a dozen others. This source has also been excellent for building my PLN because all of these authors are also on twitter posting great stuff. Some of the articles that I have found helpful in developing my discourse on education are:

The Art of Seeing the Bigger Picture

The “Other Side” Is Not Dumb

5 Education Apps Teachers Can Be Thankful For In 2015

Personalized Learning: Making the Paradigm shift

MindShift is new to me. Like Medium it features a variety of authors, but unlike medium it’s less of an aggregated blog site and more of an article publication, which focus solely on the discourse of education. The content of these articles is based less on anecdotal musings of teachings and more on authentic research. I chose to highlight this publication because pretty much every article caught my attention as being relevant to my own experiences. Here are some examples of those.

How to Determine if Student Engagement is Leading to Learning

How Schools Build a Positive Culture Through Advisory


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