I just finished watching a documentary on Netflix called 20 Feet from Stardom. If you are not familiar, the movie is about the life of several background singers and the impact they have made on popular music. I had no idea who Darlene Love or Merry Clayton were prior to watching, but I recognized their voices. It’s a remarkable film that I highly recommend because of the great story it tells. There is also an important lesson to be learned about different perspective. Everyone knows that Sting is a superstar, but he says it’s Lisa Fischer who is the star. I guess its all matter of perspective, and perspective is a key part of learning. Let me explain.
It has been said that history is the story of the conquerer. We rarely hear the stories from the side that has been defeated.
Case in point #1: I grew up and went to school in the 1970’s and 80’s which means I had classmates who were part of the 60’s scoop, and during a time that Residential schools were still operating in the Province. I had no idea at the time as these issues were certainly never written about in the local newspaper, nor talked about at the kitchen table. I don’t even know if the adults in my life were even aware of the these issues at the time. I had no idea until well into my adult life.
Case in point #2: Has anyone ever wondered why so many people from Scotland emigrated to Canada in the 1800’s? Anyone? Have you heard about the Highland Clearances? I hadn’t until a couple of years ago when I had a chance to visit with Ewan McIntosh (no relation). He told me about how the ruling classes (the British) decided to drive thousands upon thousands of Scots off their farming properties, sometimes following vicious battles, into small fishing towns on the coast or completely out of the country . The British felt the land was more profitable for sheep farming than it was for a collection of small mixed farms. Is it a coincidence that at the same time the British had colonies in Canada and Australia that needed to be populated with experienced farmers and other labour? I think not. It’s a perspective doesn’t jive with the official one that says they came to Canada on a promise of cheap land and a bright future in a new world. The word is that my ancestors fought like hell to NOT have to leave their home.
Case in point #3: Textbooks are reflective of the dominant culture. In the State of Texas, textbooks are reviewed and approved by a committee of interested individuals appointed by politicians. So, when recent text books referred to African Slaves as ‘workers’ and that Moses was an important influence on the Founding Fathers of the United states, we know that there is a bias in the content. We think that nothing like that would ever happen here, but I recently saw an Economics 101 textbook for sale that was subtitled A Customized Publication for Saskatchewan Polytechnic. I wonder who customized it and if there was any bias in the publication?
I had never before considered the perspective of the background singers and I learned a lot by listening to their stories. I didn’t know about the clearances until my conversation with Ewan and I was able to put one and one together about emmigration to Canada. I didn’t think about bias in teaching resources until I read a post on Reddit about the Texas textbook controversy. In each case, I needed multiple perspectives to make the picture a little bit clearer.
The questions I pose are; do we give our students opportunities to see multiple perspectives on topics and how is that achieved? Are we giving students real opportunities to create their own knowledge and opinions based on facts, knowledge, and experiences or are we perpetuating the old ones because “that’s the way we think it or should be” or because “that is what is in the resource”? How important are critical thinking skills in this?
As always, I would appreciate your perspective on this! Let me know what you think.