A small failure and some absolutely vital readings

by Victoria Haliburton, Teacher, Northern Canadian School

  • Project: Teaching in Northern Canada
  • Location: Canada
  • Sector: Education and Youth
  • Professional Designation: Teacher


My own failure involves trying to teach rural kids and Indian kids in Northern Canada. Step 0 (which I did not really understand at the time and the school boards had their heads in the sand about) is what we are educating the kids for — there are no factory jobs and very few office jobs, so most school skills are irrelevant to most of the people, and few of them even envision college — and thinking of envisioning college, not understanding and working with the expectations of the local people who need to know what is available out there. The net result of all this schooling and money spent seems to be a further dichotomy between the rural poor and the native people versus the urban middle class.



Some absolutely vital reading:
Anyone in this field MUST read¨The Ugly American, which is *not* what you may think from the title (He is the good guy) and which details exactly these same aid failures back in the 1950s.
Another very good and very funny book, again *nothing* like what you might think from the title, detailing the same failures in the 1990s, is The Sex Lives of Cannibals. Everyone should read these before even considering going out in the field.


Select three phrases that describe this failure.

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  1. Holland says:

    I always thought that the best schools for the native kids would be trade schools where they could learn to be licenced electricians, plumbers, carpenters, all the skilled trades along with truck driving, auto mechanics and small business skills.

    It would be a stepping stone into the modern economy. Practical I think.

    The schools would have to be based in the north. Anyone else have a better idea.

  2. NRT says:

    This actually calls to mind the book for junior youth called “Breezes of Confirmation.” The story is set in a village in an unnamed country, and the characters are young people trying to figure out their futures. One of the characters is trying to raise some funds for school, and he is advised to try and do something which meets a need in the community. He thinks about growing crops (but it’s the wrong time of the season) or selling charcoal in the market (but a lot of others are doing that), but what he finally comes up with is an ingenious plan to assist the vendors in the market. The other characters also begin to investigate possible options (mechanic, nurse, teacher) which match both their budding talents and interests, and fill a need in the community. It’s one of the most straightforward yet revolutionary approaches to economics I’ve encountered, and it makes me think that the young people themselves will, with some mentorship and assistance, be able to identify the needs of their region and find their role in making their communities prosper. (The book is part of the curriculum for the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program, a global initiative.)

  3. Frances Clee says:

    At last, someone who has read and understood The Ugly American!

  4. Greg Gamble says:

    How about a third way?
    Homeschooling as a community development project?
    Institutional schooling, with grades, classes, knowledge divided subjects, teachers and little pieces of paper with pretty seals is a tamer version of what they only recently escaped from thru another government sponsored program; residential schools (read learn to think like a white person)
    Homeschooling would give them control, tailored to their cultural bent and explained to them as a tool to grow the empowerment ethic that their heritage has unbelievably managed to retain after all the beatings we have given them.
    Homeschooling, properly crafted to their unique needs, might possibly be the first truly bottom up process they will have control of themselves. Because it doesnt have to be agenda driven or curriculum centred, it’s malleable and classless, and fits whatever goal you want it to. We have homeschooled our four children for almost twenty years, and happily discovered that the absence of top down management and control measures that are necessary to implement an integrated system in a class room leave room for the child’s innate intellectual and spiritual capital to determine their own learning journey. Properly facilitated, a group of families in a remote community, with mentor style oversight, could develop each child in their own home and/or group to discover their own strengths and encourage them. Whereas schools attempt to shape us into generalists, which meets the demands more of an industrial society, meeting minimum criteria in all areas, the human spirit and inner drive is not oriented that way. We naturally seek and find one or a few areas of comfort, enjoyment and skillsets that suits us and settle there, even in a modern setting.
    All the more in remote, non integrated and uni cultural environments.
    Generally, my understanding of pre-colonization native peoples internal social order appears to have been one where strengths were capitalized on and weaknesses were accepted without calling them failure and the relentless pressure to improve.(to someone else’s satisfaction) We home schooled (not really the same as school at home) because we suspected our children would use the belief and empowerment they developed as they added success to achievement, to tackle and challenge themselves and their own weaknesses. Without exception, they are not disappointing us, or themselves.
    We have been conditioned to believe in the empty child syndrome, and that all humans need to be filled with knowledge and control structures. Of course thats true with respect to ABC’, tech skills and brain surgery, but we have few programs or even a well developed vocabulary to describe, much less develop mechanisms that draw out the innate intelligence(s) that are within each person, from birth.
    My experience, and millions of others is ‘If we build it, they will come’.
    Ive got lots more to share if anyone is interested.
    email me.

  5. Minna says:

    This model came to mind… http://www.lend-a-hand-india.org/

  6. Reem says:

    I wrote an article a few years ago exploring approaches to rural education based on my fieldwork in Pakistan, where students were being taught urban middle-class concepts, and it left me wondering how they would be able to apply this knowledge in their agricultural communities. They certainly couldn’t contribute to their local economy with this knowledge. Rather, it was their hands-on experience helping their families in the farms that would sustain their livelihoods, not the hours they spend in a classroom. Our objective should be to enable the youth to become contributing members in their community, because we want to create sustainable communities wherever we can, not spur migration outwards.

    We face the same challenges in the global north, unfortunately.

  7. Jane says:

    If these children are ever going to have better lives they need to be literate, understand the systems that result in their present status and life and be given some concept of how to fight the systems, change them and manipulate them. Middle class children are learning how to be oblivious to the fact that their successes are bought at the expense of the suffering of a lot of other children. Poor, rural, indigenous, colored or whatever children need to be able to make sense of where they are and why they are there. I am not saying they should all go to college or all become community organizers or activists. But these children are people bought up in a worldwide society that teaches poor and disadvantaged people their poverty is their fault. THIS IS NOT TRUE!!!! And if they are not given access to the truth then the teaching system has failed or the teacher who does not try to communicate this has failed.

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