Learning and Teaching Together: Weaving Indigenous Ways of Knowing into Education

Learning and Teaching Together: Weaving Indigenous Ways of Knowing into Education

Michele T.D. Tanaka

Reviewed by Michael Marker

 

 

Students must become aware of how ambition, self-gratification, power, and control as purposes for learning are forms of self-deception that must be avoided because they lead eventually to the misuse of knowledge and the further perpetuation of self-deception. (Gregory Cajete, xiii)

This quote from Tewa scholar and science educator Greg Cajete, from his foreword to Learning and Teaching Together, is about the goals and purposes of Indigenous education. It is not only about Indigenous education, but rather about the deepest purposes for all education. While this book begins as a report on a project to help University of Victoria teacher education students understand holistic Coast Salish knowledge forms through an earth fibres course, it evolves into a critique of Eurocentric teacher education and the realities of schools that cannot slow down enough to make the time-space for a deliberate and more natural way of learning about the world and the self. The “hegemonic presence of positivism” (168), as the author puts it, creates a frenetic atmosphere for even the most culturally responsive educators who are, as one teacher reported, “all busied up” (183). Time-pressured schools oriented toward global competition and individual ambition are likely to perpetuate the self-deception and mis-education that Cajete warns against.

Teachers in British Columbia and throughout Canada who struggle with how to enact curriculum changes that incorporate Indigenous knowledge, history, and identity, will find this book illuminating. Michele Tanaka gathered together an extraordinary group of local knowledge holders and Indigenous scholars as advisors on language, cultural practices, protocols, and cosmologies. The earth fibres course that was the meeting place for teacher education students and Indigenous educators featured themes that have been widely recognized in over thirty years of Indigenous cultural revitalization: the centrality of place-based knowledge; stories of the metaphysical properties of landscapes; limits of thought in the contrasts between English and the local SENĆOŦEN language system. What Tanaka does that other works on university students learning about Indigenous knowledge systems often don’t do, is to follow students as they leave the campus and enter the schools of this digitally dystopic era. In this way she demonstrates the challenges of including Indigenous content in fast-paced schools oriented exclusively toward training economically competitive individuals. The education students were inspired and unsettled/disrupted by learning about and experiencing Indigenous principles of relationality. The “pre-service teachers’ approach to being-becoming inquiring professionals was influenced by Indigenous sensibilities” (201). These same sensibilities are resisted by the paradigm of time pressure in schools.

Drawing on a wide range of literature in educational theory and curriculum studies, Tanaka is hopeful for a transformation in education, but realistic about the resistance to expanding cross-cultural consciousness. As this book asserts, in spite of the seemingly overwhelming challenges in making a space for Indigenous thought and experience, it can and must be done. The transformation has been happening and is continuing. As I finished reading the book, I did wonder if the time-congested work world of schools and teachers is the first and main impediment toward opening a learning space about Indigenous people and Indigenous reality. Teaching about Indigenous knowledge systems requires a context where emotions and metaphysical realities are integrated into learning. Thoughts and feelings must be slowed down and quieted to open up a consciousness that is more tuned to the deep ecologies of the natural world. Eurocentric, and now globalizing, epistemologies are oriented toward a time-ness while Indigenous reality is immersed in place-ness. It is difficult to understand the meanings of Indigenous landscapes when one is moving at too great a speed through time.

Cajete and other Indigenous scholars advocate for a third space that could include both western scientific education and Indigenous knowledge systems. Tanaka sees that “education is teetering on the edge of a paradigm shift” (203). However, entering into a pedagogical space where Indigenous knowledge can be authentically taken in will require a shift in the way time is structured in schools. Without this, there can be no paradigm shift. The frenzy of time-pressured classrooms with global economic competition, increasing emphasis on STEM oriented curricula, and overwhelming teacher workloads will swamp and sink this canoe trying to deliver ancient and eternal cargo essential to educational transformation and planetary survival.   

 

Learning and Teaching Together: Weaving Indigenous Ways of Knowing into Education
Michele T.D. Tanaka
Vancouver: UBC Press, 2017. 260 pp.  $34.95 paper.