.. ge, general acceptance, being able to blend in, a society that continues to function, at least one parent who works, an allowance, and so on), so much so that the student is not challenged or his integrity not breached at a sufficiently fundamental personal and cultural level that suicide is a perceived option. It should be noted, however, that even in the dominant culture, the cohort most at risk of suicide is 15 – 25 year olds, which should raise concern about schooling-related causation. It should also be noted that even in the dominant culture that many people are not successful in school, and even as adults they live with the continuing pain of the belief that they are stupid, can’t learn, and the damage to personal value and self-esteem that implies. The predominant model of schooling in Canada, much like that of the United States, is so entrenched in our psyches that it is hardly questioned.
Although it is true that an occasional dispute arises concerning approaches such as Whole Language vs wholesale phonics, the paradigm of schooling has hardly changed, if at all, since we adopted the model from Horace Mann who brought it back to Massachusetts from Prussia in 1840. That is, our basic paradigm of schooling has not changed fundamentally or significantly in 150 years. It was based on a Prussian militaristic approach to schooling, reinforced by Skinnerian behaviourist psychology which perceives learning as simply a conditioned response to an external stimulus, epitomized by the memorization of stuff to be regurgitated on demand, usually for a test on which students will be judged. In the early years of European discovery of North America, the newcomers brought with them scourges such as small pox and measles which took a terrible toll among the Aboriginal population. The Europeans were carriers and didn’t know that they hosted the diseases which were deadly to the Aboriginal population.In a somewhat similar manner, the extant predominant paradigm of schooling has been transmitted to the Aboriginal population. This has occurred specifically and deliberately by government in its desire to educate the Aboriginals in order to make them more like us.
That infection has continued and been spread by a flood of White teachers who have carried that schooling model enthusiastically and unquestioningly. It’s the AIDS virus of education! Furthermore, Aboriginal youth who have survived their schooling experiences relatively unscathed (at least in terms of the dominant culture, but likely at tremendous cost to their Aboriginal identity) have gone to teacher training institutions and have become infected from the source. It is imperative to note that teachers are those who have been most successful in school, have even thrived, in the fascist model of schooling that obtains in contemporary culture.
They are the people who have sold their souls to the system and are those least likely to perceive problems with it. It is also important to note that at not a single teacher training institution in Canada (and, as far as I have determined, thus far, only one in the US), is there a course on the nature of the learning brain, nor do teacher training courses contain elements of that area of knowledge.It also appears that there are no teacher training faculties who have even exhibited interest in that area of knowledge. In other words, the infection is firmly entrenched at the teacher training institutions and since it is not recognized as an important issue (In fact it is not recognized at all!) the situation is unlikely to soon change. Consider the Aboriginal child from what may be a dysfunctional family in a dysfunctional community having inflicted on him the contemporary dominant model of schooling.
Consider, even, a healthy Aboriginal child from a functional family in a functioning community being forced to attend the dysfunctional and brain-antagonistic school. The model, utilizing various kinds of severe judgments, including percentages and other kinds of judging methods, the language of success and failure, passing and failing, memorization for testing, where the model of the good student is a quiet and passive one, where discussion is discouraged, questions perceived as challenges to the person of the teacher, and initiative and creativity ridiculed and undermined, and the result is almost predictable. The typical child has experienced so much pain that by age 12 he is already alienated from school, desperately hanging on until age 15 or 16 so that he can drop out legally.The drop out rate in Canada is still 30%! Aboriginal youth, like Aboriginal adults, have now accepted the propaganda that education is the key to future success and happiness and acceptance. It is the standard of worth in the dominant culture, and Aboriginals seem to perceive almost all functioning adults in the dominant culture as possessing it. They go to school, and send their children to school, with enormous anticipation, expectation and hope. Then, children begin to do less and less well – they don’t measure up to that artificial and dysfunctional and foreign standard that embodies the concept of personal value and worth in Canadian society.
Thus, they come to see themselves as not measuring up either as individual people or as a culture to that foreign standard which they have accepted and applied to themselves.The Aboriginal dropout has few or no supports at his community or village level and may drift to Toronto or Winnipeg or Montreal or Vancouver, where he quickly perceives himself as one of a small, despised, and unrespected minority, with no skills of value to the dominant culture. Alcohol becomes a refuge and a relief. Is it any wonder that along that path suicide becomes an option – an option for someone who perceives himself as having no value, whose culture has lost its value, and who has neither the social, educational, or employment skills which have currency and value in the dominant culture? The model of schooling must change – to one which is non-judgmental, one which supports the development of a strong self-esteem, confidence and competence, based on activities which are meaningful and enjoyable for the Aboriginal children and firmly entrenched in a culture-positive and culture-enhancing ethos.
This calls for radical change in the model of schooling in Aboriginal communities. It is amply documented that Education (read: trustees, superintendents, principals, teachers, teacher trainers) has exhibited remarkable inability or unwillingness to make significant, substantial, or long-lasting changes to the predominant (archaic and inappropriate) schooling paradigm.Thus, it may be incumbent upon Aboriginal community leaders and elders to insist on, and maybe initiate, the needed changes if there is to be hope for the viability of Aboriginal culture and for Aboriginals as a continuing viable people.