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By Fred Michah Rynor

We take for granted that Aboriginal people in Canada have a long and fascinating history yet too often our classrooms are devoid of any references to their diverse important cultural perspectives.

Jean-Paul Restoule, associate professor of Aboriginal Education and program coordinator of Adult Education and Community Development in the Department of Leadership, Higher and Adult Education, is looking for ways to include contemporary indigenous perspectives into the classrooms of today.

“My latest research focuses on how teachers can take up Aboriginal perspectives in the work they do regardless of the subject being taught,” explains Restoule, who came to OISE first as a sociology and equity studies student and then joined the faculty in 2005. He also teaches in the Aboriginal Studies Program at U of T.

“In addition to this project is my interest in the personal and professional changes that teachers go through as they absorb and communicate this knowledge to students.”

Restoule’s methodology is to interview teacher candidates in depth for their understanding of Aboriginal issues and to see what interventions are made in teacher education programs that help or hinder their adaptation of the material for students. “I’m looking not only at the lessons given to them to teach but how these lessons are actually affecting them as educators.”

He’s even including OISE’s Deepening Knowledge Project in his research as an example of self-study, “to see how the materials we’re creating are working and how we can adapt them to actively engage teachers right now.”
“One of the aspects of First Nations education is separating what is cultural knowledge and what should be made available in the classroom,” he says, “and this is part of the confusion and debate that we’ve been experiencing during this study.”

Another issue, Restoule has discovered, is that teachers are concerned they have to be ‘experts’ on Aboriginal history/culture in order to be effective communicators of this information. “Along with this concern is the feeling they don’t have the time or resources for inclusion.”

“Some teachers are uncomfortable with the responsibility of adding Aboriginal content because they feel they’re not familiar enough with this subject matter to do it justice and that they’ll get it wrong. The result is that they become resistant to adding this important educational aspect to the curriculum but I try to communicate to them that we, as educators, can find ways of including it, no matter where we are at in our learning about these issues.”

Whether it be the arts, geography, history, etc., Restoule believes all academic areas can benefit from adding Aboriginal voices.

“Aboriginal inclusion can benefit all subjects,” Restoule maintains, “from the humanities to law to the sciences. Our treatment of any of these subjects is incomplete without some consideration of Aboriginal views on the topic.”

These kinds of educational additions can even involve the physical environment of the classroom, he adds, “including how desks and chairs are arranged, how to lead traditional circle discussions and introducing indigenous methods of teaching. What works well in Aboriginal settings can also work in a school environment. In other words, just thinking of the Aboriginal viewpoint can alter the way you teach these perspectives.”