Everybody’s Children

In Congo, the saying goes: “When a woman is carrying a baby, it’s her baby. But when the baby is born, it’s everybody’s child.” Unfortunately, this reality only exists on a minor scale in today’s society and most likely confined to one’s inner circle; which is why this documentary was really hard to watch. The refugee crisis is closer than ever and one can only begin to imagine the tales of struggle they are going through. Although I had some sort of previous understanding of the problems faced by refugees, this documentary definitely opened my eyes to details I never might have even considered about their daily struggles.

JAQUETTE_153C9108051

First, I must admit that I was one of those people who thought that Canada had some sort of system put in place to take care of refugees. I was shocked and confused as to why and how could there be no such thing. In the words of Ann Woolger-Bell, “Most Canadians presume that anyone that comes into Canada asking for asylum as a refugee, that there is a system in place where they are sheltered, welcomed and assisted. There is nothing. They are numbered among the homeless!”

They are numbered among the homeless?!! This is truly heartbreaking! I mean, even from a political and economic perspective, if we don’t guide them to finding the right path now, we will have to face the consequences that surface as a result after. It’s really just delaying the problem.

Second, it was pure sadness to watch how Joyce and Sallieu, two unaccompanied minor refugees, live such lonely lives at such a young age. Even when they have tears of joy, there is really no one around to celebrate with. Although I was happy to see that they are both resilient and able to maintain an optimistic look on life, I couldn’t help but think that the hug Joyce received at church from a stranger might have been the only affection she received all year. Similarly, throughout the documentary, all Sallieu hoped for was someone to talk to and share ideas or even just a meal with. No one from his school even knew that he lived alone or had any idea of the struggles he was facing. I believe that much more support could and should have been provided to these students. In an indirect way, teachers could have also provided support by incorporating essential skills/knowledge and truly authentic tasks tailored to address their current struggles directly into their lesson plans.

Finally, Joyce and Sallieu’s view on school is that it is some sort of bridge that just needs to be crossed in order to find success and happiness. They believe that one-day everything will be ok once they have a degree because it will enable them to find a job and thus be happy. This is great and all, but in my belief, not the right approach. First, “Canada” was that bridge to happiness, and now “school” has taken on that role. By the time they started applying to college they really had no idea what it is they wanted to do. Although Salliue was interested in becoming a firefighter, I felt he chose this path only because he wasn’t really exposed to other interests at school. Instead of providing them with a platform to discover their interests and abilities, school was just something they wanted to bypass in order to find happiness.

We Were Children

Coincidentally, as I was reflecting on this movie/documentary and the readings around it, a song came on the radio which truly captured my thoughts. It was an Indigenous version of ‘O Canada’ but with lyrics surrounding the painful experiences of the Residential School System and the bridge toward Truth and Reconciliation. I tried to find it online but had no luck. This line “They cried to be heard again” truly touched me, especially after watching in disturbing detail the horrific experiences of those innocent children. Because these stories have been hidden from the public eye for so long—and I would argue that to some extent they still are—every time they have to retell their stories in order to be heard, tears come down as painful memories resurface.

Battiste highlights that “Once modern society became convinced of the absolute right and virtue of its values and institutions, either real or imaginary, it set out to convert all other societies with which they came into contact …the modern educational system was created to maintain the identity, language, and culture of a colonial society, while ignoring the need to decolonize” (Pg. 30). Erasing or reshaping ones’ identity toward a uniform “dominant” society is the perfect recipe toward creating a generation of LOST. They are neither part of the dominant society nor do they belong to their own. Simply put; one cannot know where they are going without knowing where they come from.

Battiste’s words really spoke to me because aside from the dark and hidden history of the Residential School system, many of the problems she mentioned are starting to take shape in the new generation of my own culture. Since the emergence of private Eurocentric schools in Egypt, new generations have increasingly come to devalue the need to learn their own language and are slowly starting to lose interest in their own culture. It’s amazing how much influence schools can have on shaping identities of future generations and even more so, how teachers can significantly change the path of many lives by building bridges. As teachers, we have a major role to play within Truth and Reconciliation and must understand that not only do we affect the lives of the students we interact with, but the many generations they will lead. While Battiste’s writing was directed more toward expected change from the government, I believe that actual change will occur from a bottom-up approach when we as teachers engineer safe and stable bridges that introduce our students to a world of hope and possibilities.

Here is a song that may capture some of the memories surrounding Residential School Experiences: 

Entre Les Murs

If one was not aware of how much influence a teacher and a school system can have on shaping a student’s future, they should definitely have some sort of idea after watching this movie. To me, it was a visual reiteration of this fact. A student was expelled and possibly dropped-out—or in this case, forced to drop-out by his father—not because of his direct behaviour but due in large to an obvious shortcoming from the system in place at his school and the unethical behaviours exercised by his teacher. Although I really felt as a student teacher I shouldn’t be in any place to judge, here are my thoughts about the main factors that led to Suleiman’s expulsion, which in my opinion is the main highlight of the movie:

entre-les-murs-poster_189748_1367The Teacher, Mr. Marin: It was obvious from the first day of class that Mr. Marin invested minimal, if any at all, time preparing for his course and deciding upon clear classroom management guidelines to put in place. Instead of being a positive role model and exercising professional ethics in his classroom, I felt he actually strived for the opposite and didn’t know where to draw the line. His first impression was that of a “mean boss” rather than a “leader/coach.” He constantly teased his students, embarrassed them, and created an overall negative environment whereby name-calling evolved to become part of regular class routine without even initiating his minimal response. Although it was apparent that he was in fact well rounded with the content material of the subject, I still was not a fan. He placed students on the spot and pressured them to answer his questions without using his professional judgement to notice that they felt uncomfortable being in this position because of a much deeper issue that needed to be addressed one-on-one. His teaching approach was also more of a “thank you and goodnight” style as he tended to explain major assignments last-minute as the students walked out the door, and not really caring to find out if they actually understood it.

On the positive side, I noticed that he obviously did care for his students when he made a small but sincere effort to discuss Khoumba’s behavioural problem, and continually defended Suleiman at staff meetings. But, to care for students, in my opinion, is to respect their trust in you in investing appropriate time to plan for their learning experience and provide them with a safe and healthy learning environment.

Overall, all those mistakes on his behalf, which were also left unaddressed by the school, added up and paved the path to a perfect storm which victimized Suleiman and as a result cost him his future. While Mr. Marin changed his approach and his behaviour after this incident, it obviously was a little too late for Suleiman.

The School:  I’m sure I’m not alone when I ask: what was the school thinking when they decided to have two student representatives attend their conference as they broke to pieces every single student?!! This was a major factor behind the storm. Of course they were going to inform their fellow-students about the conversations that took place in that meeting and miscommunicate most of it along the way! The principal, who is supposed to be the leader, obviously lacked leadership skills and as a result created a system that was by no means inline or in favour of student needs. Instead of investing proper time to discuss actual student issues, he allowed for subjects such as that of “the coffee machine” to take place in those meetings. It came as no surprise that Suleiman’s behaviour was going to result in his expulsion as most of the his solutions in addressing student problems resulted in further disciplinary actions.