Challenging Dominant Discourses using Feminist Poststructuralism

As I continue on my journey to becoming a teacher, I am gradually becoming more involved in the critical thinking of pedagogy and what the role of teacher entails. One approach to this thinking I had not previously considered is that of feminist poststructuralism, as discussed by M.J. Barrett in the article Making (Some) Sense of Feminist Poststructuralism in Environmental Education Research and Practice. Considering feminist poststructuralism, I examine (and perhaps challenge) my identities (subject positions) as student teacher and environmental educator in relation to dominant discourses.

When I think of myself as a preservice teacher, I usually think of myself in relation to the dominant discourses often associated with the term. As a preservice teacher I am supposed to be young, unexperienced, and most likely female. Because I fit these frameworks, my identity as a preservice teacher is reinforced through the dominant discourses. This may, however, not be the case for all preservice teachers, especially in terms of gender.

When I think of myself as an environmental educator, I also think of myself in relation to the dominant discourses often associated with the term. Dominant discourses imply that as an environmental educator, I should be male (as most scholars in this field are), a teacher, and an environmental activist. While I would consider myself a teacher in the context of environmental educator, others may consider themselves students, constantly learning about the field. I am also not male, nor do I consider myself an environmental activist. In this way, my identity as environmental educator is not reinforced through it’s dominant discourses.

While the dominant discourses associated with a select term might work for some, they do not work for all. It is this inconsistency that proves the value in taking a feminist poststructural approach to any term.

“Discourse and the ways in which it produces subjects, is a central focus of poststructural theorizing, and as such, so is an analysis of power.” – M.J. Barrett, p. 80. My visual representation is a reflection of this quote, showing the discourse scales of preservice teacher and environmental educator. Blue words represent discourses about being a preservice teacher, while green words represent discourses about being an environmental educator. The heavier sides of the scale contain the dominant discourses of that term, which have more power in mainstream society.

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Inuit Mathematics in Euro-Western Culture

When I think back on my experiences of teaching and learning mathematics in school, I don’t remember aspects that were particularly oppressive and/or discriminating for me. Looking back with the knowledge I know now, this was probably because I am privileged. I am a white, middle-class female living in a Euro-Western society who identifies with many of the dominant binaries that are valued and existing within my society. The questions I encountered in my experiences of learning math in school reflected these aspects that comprise my identity. The characters from my textbook math problems were usually white, male or female, middle-class, living in a Euro-Western society, and encountering problems that are typical of existing within this demographic. In addition, the types of mathematical knowledge I was taught and tested on reflected the dominant form of mathematical knowledge present within my culture and society. I did not face any contextual challenges in my mathematics learning experiences, so I never thought that some of my classmates could be potentially struggling with the type of mathematical knowledge we were learning. I had a few classmates from other cultures in my classes growing up, and I wonder now if they struggled to learn Euro-Western mathematics because their own cultures may teach mathematics differently. As mentioned in Leroy Little Bear’s article and the prompt for this journal, “One of the problems with colonialism is that it tries to maintain a singular social order by means of force and law, supressing the diversity of human worldviews” (p.77). I think the teaching of Euro-Western mathematics in non-Euro-Western societies and contexts is a prime example of this statement. By teaching Euro-Western forms of mathematics in these places, colonialism is being enacted and diverse worldviews are being silenced. Perhaps one of the most prevalent examples of this on Canadian soil is the teaching of “southern” mathematics to Inuit communities as expressed by professor Gale Russell and in Louise Poirer’s article.

After reading “Teaching Mathematics and the Inuit Community”, I was able to observe some ways in which Inuit mathematics challenge Eurocentric purposes and learning styles of mathematics. Firstly, the way counting and numbers are conceived and taught challenge Euro-Western ideology. Inuit mathematics are taught in Inuktitut, which relies heavily on oral passing down of knowledge. The Inuit have language for numbers, but not symbols. Even still, this language is complex, with different language being applied to different contexts. Inuit math also works in base 20, instead of the “southern” base 10. None of these approaches to math exist in Euro-Western mathematics. Secondly, Inuit math is based upon Inuit ways of life. Students learn by observing an elder or listening to enigmas, instead of performing pen and paper exercises. The mathematical problems Inuit students encounter relate to their daily lives, unlike that of Euro-Western mathematics. This is one explanation as to why Inuit students are particularly good with spatial relations and geometry – they encounter it in their daily lives. Lastly, units of measurement do not resemble those found and commonly used in Euro-Western societies. For example, body parts (which can have variation) are considered standard units of measurement in Inuit culture as opposed to the unchanging units found in Eurocentric mathematics. In addition, the calendar year is based on “natural independently recurring events” (p.61). This means that the length of any given month (and therefore year) can change depending on the length of these events, unlike Euro-Western months, which remain relatively the same from one year to the next. Differences such as these prove that math is not a universal language, but it does not mean that Inuit mathematics should be marginalized or ignored. Instead, we need to recognize the presence of Inuit math (and other diverse forms of mathematics) so that everyone may thrive in the subject.

My Special Places

Growing up, my family and I moved around a fair amount. Because of this, I found it difficult to identify the special places from my childhood (or otherwise). I experienced the early years of my life in a few different places, and had so many options to choose from. After further reflection, I realized the various locations I had lived growing up were my special places. They contained all of the people, events, and sub-places that shaped my identity, certainly serving as special to me.

I was born in Regina, Saskatchewan where I lived for the first four years of my life. It was here that I said my first words, took my first steps, and experienced a variety of other typical “firsts”. I came to know the cold prairie winters and sunny summer days. Family and culture surrounded me, influencing me as I began to construct the first pieces of my self-identity. Regina was my first home, and continues to hold a special place in my heart.

After my time spent in Regina, my family and I moved to Cedar Falls, Iowa. Over the next three years, I began school, developed friendships, and had my first experiences in organized activities. I became accustomed the mild winters, hot summers, and numerous other changes that accompany moving to the United States. As I continued to grow, I began to understand the juxtaposition of my first home with my current one. My new surroundings challenged and shaped my first constructions of self-identity, providing me with valuable learning experiences along the way. To this day, I still have vivid memories of my foreign home.

When I was seven, my family and I returned home to Canada, moving to Yorkton, Saskatchewan. I adjusted to the new school, made new friends, and continued to grow in my experiences. I was glad to be in a place that felt more like my first home, and settled from the move more easily this time. I became familiar with cold winters once again and grew to know the farm fields. Some of the knowledge and practices I acquired in the states were challenged (mostly in school), and so I revised my identity once again. I picked pieces of my American identity to keep and began growing in my Saskatchewan identity again.

Two years later, my family and I made our final move back home to Regina, where we currently reside. I started at a new school for the second time, and made another new set of friends. I learned more about traditional Saskatchewan landscape and history, appreciating it more throughout the years. In addition, I continued to grow in all aspects of my life, understanding more about myself and my surroundings. Over the next eleven years, I transitioned from elementary school, to high school, and finally to university. I continued to learn, gain experiences (good and bad), and construct my identity, resulting in who I am today. I will always remember my special places and fondly remember how they have shaped me.

My visual representation is inspired by the quote “I am bound to the earth by a web of stories” – Scott Russell Saunders (as found on p. 174 the Community Story Circle reading). The Regina skyline, Iowa state outline, and Yorkton house logo represent my special places, in the cycle which they occurred (starting at the top and moving clockwise). My special places are the locations of my stories, which in my visual are literally bounding me to the earth in a web.

Reasoning and explanation for the stories I have shared are rooted in the article referenced above. As the article mentions, I tell these stories because they are part of me. They are what I value, what I want to share, and how I want you to know me (p. 175). They are part of my personal epistemology. Likewise, sharing my own personal stories as a valid way of knowing can be compared to the personal stories shared throughout the blanket exercise. Those personal stories are also considered to be valid forms of epistemology, and reveal truths about the people’s lives that share them (p. 177). In addition, the stories strongly connect knowledge with place (p.181). They strive to provoke emotion from participants so that they will be remembered, and can potentially change the feelings and behaviours of those who experience them (p.181).

“In the Middle of Things” Meta-Reflection

As I complete the first half of this course, I am beginning to reflect on what I have learned and where my knowledge is leading me. Re-reading my assignments and blog posts has been crucial in this process, and has helped me to reinterpret and extend my understanding of course themes and messages thus far.

While re-reading my posts and assignments, I considered the place of environmental education philosophies in my writing. While I had many recurring ideas concerning the environment, none of them directly related to the philosophies discussed in class. Why have I unknowingly neglected to include such philosophies? Should I make place for them in my future writing? What I did notice however was the incorporation of Deep Ecology through engagement with my peers. In my first blog post, Sua provides comments connecting my post to a description of Deep Ecology by saying, “Your experience reminds me of the outdoor activity we did yesterday. Taking a deep breath, feeling the cold air touching my skin, calming down myself and focusing on what I can hear from the nature surrounds me – it was simple yet very meaningful time for me as being in nature is something that I am lacking of in daily lives”. In addition, I contrasted my braid with McKaila’s poem, which also alludes to Deep Ecology through the lines “You will appreciate nature by being quiet and still, feeling you senses explore and your heart start to fill”. It is interesting to see the ways environmental education philosophies are (or are not) present in my writings.

As I continued to review my work, I also noticed the repetition of many ideas concerning human kind and the environment. For example, blog posts 1, 2, and 3 all mention the idea of connectedness with nature, which Robin Wall Kimerer describes in Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants (216-222). Blog post 1 and my love letter mention that humans are a part of the overarching structure that is the environment. Both my love letter and braid touch on the intricate process of the environment. Finally, the notion that humans are primary contributors to climate change and that we must realize our impacts in order to preserve the earth is a highly repetitive idea, occurring in blog posts 1 and 2, and well as my love letter and braid. By noting the repetition of these ideas, I noticed how they are all interconnected. Why do I have these ideas about the environment? Where do they come from? It is questions such as these that are prompting me to further examine my own knowledge.

Another step in my reflexive process was looking for types of knowledge I was (and wasn’t) acknowledging. For the most part, all of my works were unintentionally constructed around Euro-Western ways of knowing (scientific knowledge) and ideas about the environment (ex. the environment as a place for exploration, touring, adventure, etc.). These issues are addressed by Liz Newbery in Canoe Pedagogy and Colonial History: Exploring contested spaces of outdoor environmental education. In addition, I told my own stories of the environment in blogs 1 and 3, but whose stories did I neglect to tell? It wasn’t until my third blog post that I began to disrupt my own stories and preconceived narratives by acknowledging other ways of knowing, worldviews, and narratives. By acknowledging this “other”, I realized that there was an other. The place of my own stories, worldviews, and narratives existed on the basis that there was an “other”, a side I neglected to acknowledge up until this point.

Reviewing my work also caused me to question its relation to my embodying ecoliteracy group project. What connection do my embodied actions have with my blog posts and knowledge learned thus far? One realization I made was that the overall aim of the project was an attempt to “save the world”, an ideology expressing that the only reason to take care of the earth is so that humans may continue to live on it. This is a very human-centered way of thinking, which can be problematic in our motivations for taking care of the earth.

As I transition into the latter half of the course, I take my reinterpretations and realizations with me. I know I am still on my journey to understanding more about environmental education, and I am unsure as to where this journey will lead me. What I do hope however, is that I can one day bring this valuable knowledge with me into my own classroom.

My Citizenship Education

The earliest memories I have of citizenship education come from grade 6 and onward, with the majority of what I learned relating to the principles and characteristics of the personally responsible citizen. We were taught how to be “good citizens” by learning socially acceptable behaviours and practices. We were taught to be kind, work hard, educate ourselves, obey the law, vote, pay taxes, help others in need, contribute to charity, etc. I vaguely remember examining concepts of citizens who were less and more involved than the average citizen, and what those principles and behaviours looked like. We were discouraged from being “bad” citizens and gently encouraged to be average or above average citizens. Looking back now, it seems as though the citizenship teaching we received was meant to be synonymous with our character. If we displayed characteristics that fell outside the realm of the average or above average citizen, we were bad citizens and therefore bad people.

After learning more about citizenship and the three types of citizens in class, I realized there was a lot my initial citizenship education left out or made impossible. Firstly, many principles and characteristics of the participatory citizen were left out of the curriculum, with this kind of citizen only minorly being touched on. In addition, the justice-oriented citizen was neglected all together. I find it troubling that this information was left out of my citizenship education, and feel it should be integrated into current curriculum if it isn’t already. I feel as though we are entering into political times where we need to be educated and active citizens in order to create the society we desire. If we do not teach these types of citizenship in schools, it becomes harder to enact them when our students grow older. Lastly, much of the citizenship education I received did not discuss immigrant citizenship or express citizenship from an immigrant point of view. Canada is a country with an ever-growing immigrant population, and I think it is important to honour this perspective. Citizenship (and Canadian citizenship in particular) can hold varied meanings from those who do not obtain it by birth. Honouring this perspective works to honour the perspectives of immigrant children in the classroom and educate Canadian-born students. By expanding the content of citizenship education, we can create more educated and unified citizens, ultimately benefitting our country.

Canoe Pedagogy and Outdoor Ed.

Throughout my schooling years, I have had a few Outdoor Education experiences. With each successive experience, I began to slowly unravel and understand the deeper meanings attached to Outdoor Ed./Environmental Education. My first official Outdoor Ed. experience was a three-day trip to Camp Monahan in the late spring of my grade eight year. I remember sleeping in tents with my friends, going swimming, making crafts, and playing games. This experience was fairly straightforward, as it served the purpose of getting my peers and I outside and having fun. In this instance, there wasn’t a deeper meaning associated with the trip. The experience was fairly surface level in terms of Outdoor Ed., depicting the traditional western worldview of wilderness as rejuvenating, peaceful, and adventurous, as Newberry mentions in her article.

My next significant Outdoor Ed. experience was on a school trip to Banff national park the following spring. Although I was on a choir trip, my teacher saw the availability of spare time one day as a great opportunity to take a nature walk through the mountains as an Outdoor Ed. experience. As we walked, my teacher stressed the importance of being one with nature and giving thanks for our beautiful surroundings. This was one of the first times I truly felt connected to nature, giving me a deeper understanding of wilderness consisting of relationships, as Newberry describes in her article by exemplifying Kaaren Dannenmann.

It was not until starting this course and studying Outdoor Ed./Environmental Education that I really began to understand the deepest implications of the subject material. This course (as well as other University courses I have taken) has presented me with Newberry’s idea of troubling knowledge that disrupts the traditional view of wilderness and tells the deeper narratives of Outdoor Ed. When we went on a nature walk in this class a couple weeks ago, I found myself recognizing many of the points Newberry makes in her article. For instance, I acknowledged that the purpose of the walk was not just to tour and enjoy nature, but rather to feel connected and recognize the storied past of the land. I recognized that I was on treaty four territory, and was informed of the indigenous ways of living and knowing that were and still are practiced to some extent on the land. I was informed of the land’s history of colonialism, the relationships between Indigenous peoples and European settlers, and the narratives that have been constructed in attempt to avoid these realities. I recognized and understood the truth of the land that so often goes unacknowledged, and my visual for this post represents just that.

Upon initial observation, my visual appears to be a scenic picture. This is meant to symbolize the deceptiveness and influence of traditional western narratives about wilderness. When some features of the picture are flipped back however, words and phrases that describe the true and sometimes troubling narrative of the land are uncovered. This shows that with deeper thought and inquiry, the land can reveal a hidden history that is not initially visible or known to all.

Human Impact on the Environment

For this journal entry, I have chosen to relate the meaning of embodiment in the context of climate change and environmental education to the effect human kind is having on the environment. My visual aids in the depiction of this concept, and is divided up into three sections as so: The first section represents our “mother earth”, as the earth makes human life possible, and nourishes us with all the natural resources we need to thrive. The second section represents the grown children of mother earth, AKA human kind. The picture depicts the burning of fossil fuels, which contributes to climate change. It shows that as the children of mother earth grow older, we do not necessarily grow wiser. We choose to harm the earth that gives us life in the name of convenience and greed. The last section depicts two gravestones, one for mother earth, and one for human kind. This is meant to foreshadow the outcome of the decisions regarding the environment we are making today. If we do not start caring for the earth as it has cared for us, both will cease to exist.

The messages of embodiment in the context of climate change and environmental education also link to the arguments presented in this excerpt from Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring. In the excerpt, Carson explains that the damage we are doing to the environment is causing us to slowly poison ourselves. She uses the example of our use of chemical pesticides and other dangerous chemicals that have the ability to reside in our soil and water. Many of these chemicals are taken up by plants and animals, poisoning them. Some of these plants and animals serve as our food source, further infecting us when we consume them. This concept of self- poison can also be applied to climate change, through the burning of fossil fuels. Burning fossil fuels releases harmful substances in the form of greenhouse gases, which contribute to global warming and can become concentrated in our tissues. It is for reasons such as these that this sense of embodiment also connects to environmental education. The emissions, chemicals, and waste we are producing now are perhaps permanently changing the homeostasis earth has taken millennia to achieve. Destroying this balance will cause catastrophic consequences for both the earth, and ourselves. Environmental education is important in that part of its purpose is to educate on this topic, so that we may create change. If we want to continue living on this earth, we must learn to care for the environment.

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