Author: Editor Ed News

Grad student discusses talking to students about climate change on CBC’s What on Earth

Aysha Yaqoob (B.Ed. 2018) founded Pencils of Hope while a student. Photo credit: Shuana Niessen

Alumna and current #UofR Education grad student Aysha Yaqoob (BEd’18) is talking to young people about climate change.

Laura Lynch of CBC’s “What on Earth” January 10 broadcast, a segment on talking with children about climate change, features award-winning U of R alumna and current MEd graduate student Aysha Yaqoob, who teaches at Balfour Collegiate in Regina.

In response to Lynch’s question, “Why teach climate change in an English class,” Yaqoob outlines how her teaching practices were formed by her own experiences as a student, and what stuck with her were the things she could relate to.  So when she thinks about making learning relatable, she thinks about “bringing in real-life situations: what’s going on around them, [and] how they can contribute to it.” Yaqoob says, “I’ve learned that climate change is something young people really care about.”

Lynch asks Yaqoob how teaching about climate change in a high-school English class “dovetail[s] with lessons about Shakespeare and grammar.” Yaqoob’s responds that the Saskatchewan English curriculum is thematic so quite open ended. The theme she builds around is Equity and Ethics, which ties into Shakespeare’s Macbeth and also climate change and climate crisis.  Yaqoob begins by asking students where they are at and what they already know about this topic. Yaqoob says, “Over the years, I have found that that’s usually the best way that we can start our learning and move forward.”

Students often think they know a lot about a topic but after their conversations, they realize “they only understand the tip of the iceberg,” says Yaqoob. Students are generally familiar with concepts such as reduce, reuse, recycle, and plastic straws, but with “some of the more complex conversations such as greenhouse gases, when we bring those in, a lot of kids are shocked,” Yaqoob says. “We are constantly debunking information or misinformation that they find online. That’s actually part of the course that I teach earlier on, that critical thinking piece, so by the end of it, they get pretty good at cross referencing, fact checking…so it’s a pretty cool experience that we do together.”

In her first year of teaching, Yaqoob realized that she needed to approach the topic differently so the students can feel empowered and inspired rather than panicked. After conversations with students, she and her students started to look at people who are making change, such as youth activists. Students wrote to people who were making decisions, such as the Mayor of Regina, the Provincial Government and the Prime Minister Trudeau.  Students did receive responses, and these contributed to a feeling of empowerment and advocacy.

Go to https://www.cbc.ca/listen/live-radio/1-429/clip/15817583 to hear the 7-minute exchange. Select the 10 January segment of “What on Earth” and forward to about the 12’15” mark.

Researching representational practices in musical theatre

Dr. Sara Schroeter Assistant Professor – Arts Education, Drama Education

When Sara Schroeter set out to attend a local musical theatre production one evening, an outing with one of her children, she didn’t expect she would have to have difficult conversations with her family because of the problematic racial representations.

“As a mother of mixed-race children, when I started going to the musical theater and seeing the problematic representations and after talking with my husband and hearing him say the damage was already done, and that this was one of many, many experiences that our children will have, that they might not understand right now, but one day they will, and these experiences will have an accumulated impact [sigh]—that’s when I realized that this is what we are doing with musicals.”

Musical theatre is a popular and traditional feature in many high schools across North America, including Regina. When Schroeter first joined the Faculty of Education as an assistant professor of arts and drama education, she realized she needed to gain a better understanding of musical theatre:

“Musical theatre is what many of my students in Arts Ed understood theatre to be. I needed to better understand what’s going on in musical theatre. I was told that musicals are really big for the local high schools and the community attends these musical shows.”

Schroeter set out to investigate and says, “I went to two musical theatre productions the first year I was here and both had really problematic representations of either race or gender and sexuality—some of the most troubling representations that I have seen recently, certainly something I didn’t expect to see in 2016.”

Her experiences caused Schroeter to start questioning the pedagogical value of musical theatre. She wondered where teachers were drawing their inspiration from and how they were contending with issues of representation in a field that, she says, “is known to have quite a problematic history.”

In 2018, Schroeter’s wondering turned into a University of Regina, President’s Seed Funded research project entitled, “Staging Difference: Examining Representational Practices in Musical Theatre Productions in Regina Schools and on Professional Stages.”

Though a drama educator, this exploration into musical theatre has been a new focus for Schroeter, whose research has mostly focused on youth representations of self and other through drama.

“I study applied theatre and drama in education, and am interested in youth making their own stories and telling their own stories. My research has also examined representational practices, often drawing on critical race theory and cultural studies,” says Schroeter.

Schroeter’s research project involves two parts: “Part of my research is to look at what is going on in high schools, interviewing teachers, and part of it is to go and see contemporary progressive shows, or shows said to be doing progressive things.”

Though her research is not complete yet, and no in-depth analysis has been done on the data, Schroeter is able to share some of her understanding of the issues so far.

Musical theatre productions are essentially money makers, Schroeter says. As such, “they are meant to have an appeal to a large audience. To do this, they rely heavily on stereotypes and tropes to make easily recognizable characters so that everybody knows what story is being told. These representations always comes with issues.”

When musicals are purchased for reproduction at the high school level, as commercial enterprises, strictly guided by copyright law, there is little room for local teachers to make adaptations. This is a problem because, Schroeter says, there are “so many ways in which race, religion, and gender and heteronormativity are written into the productions as a way of telling a particular story about how Americans see themselves and the image they want to portray in American society.”

Summarizing Hoffman (2014) in The Great White Way, Schroeter says, “the musical is in essence part and parcel of the invention of Americanism and white supremacy, with roots in minstrel shows from the 1800s and early 1900s when performers did dress up with blackface, and used quintessential stereotypes, such as mammy.”

As a form of public pedagogy, Schroeter views high school musical theatre as “teaching all of those things that make up what we are understanding and learning—how we construct knowledge.” Referencing Donatella Galella’s work, Schroeter says that “musical theatre is a form of public pedagogy because it tells us stories about who we are and who we imagine ourselves to be.”

As an example, Schroeter points to Hamilton (2015), which is purported to be a very progressive musical production. She says, “Hoffman (2014) writes about songs in musicals, such as the song for change. The main character goes through immense change and the person who sings the song for change is usually a white character who has multiple dimensions, whereas characters of colour are presented as flat characters; they stay the same throughout the show. Hamilton (2015) plays with this by representing white characters through actors of colour. Actors of colour get to play this range of emotion and change, but it is still problematic because they are still representing White folks, so they haven’t changed and disrupted what happens in the structure of the musical.”

Schroeter highlights other problems with Hamilton (2015): “The way the American history is told through hip hop makes history relevant, but it also makes the history irrelevant, because it is a story from which the actors of colour in the cast have historically been excluded—in some ways a re-appropriation. Why aren’t they telling the story of the Haitian revolution or of the theft of lands; there are so many others stories that could have been told that would be relevant to the students who would then see their histories represented in the play. Instead they are being told what is ultimately a white story—a slave-owning story—that has been re-imagined to maybe include the possibility of mixed heritage in Alexander Hamilton, which perpetuates the idea that he was mixed race, but we don’t know that.”

Though musical theatre is problematic, Schroeter understands that it fulfills a purpose: “The musical fills this void in not requiring audiences to work very hard to understand what is going on in the story,” she says. Musicals also “bring various departments, music, dance, theatre, and art departments together for these wide scale productions that involve a lot of kids.”

Schroeter clarifies her position saying, “I’m not taking away from the bonding experience or artistic learning, but I want to know what these productions do to us as a public, pedagogically, and to students in particular, and also to acknowledge, as Gastambide-Fernandez & Parekh found in their 2017 study of arts programs, who is included in those productions and who is excluded historically in drama and theatre programs in our schools.” Schroeter is encouraged that increasingly IBPOC scholars, educators, and artists are raising their voices about this exclusion in representation and taking on leadership roles in musical theatre, such as director and producer.

Schroeter still wants to see plays integrate music and art with drama, but she would love to see them be stories relevant to youth. “I’m not going to deny that kids want to do Grease (1971). I get that teachers are in a delicate position of having to do what kids want and push them.”

Avant garde theatre is one alternative to musicals because “avant garde theatre artists are often trying to avoid stereotypes or trouble the tropes. Then you get really controversial theatre because opinion is divided—with some hating and some loving it,” says Schroeter. Likewise, “when you make original theatre and stories told by students and their points of views, sometimes parents don’t like the stories that kids have to tell and sometimes the stories are experimental and people don’t get it.”

Through interviews with local drama teachers, Schroeter is finding some teachers “that just won’t do the musical because they are going to create plays that involve music and singing, but not musicals—once you open that door, you can’t close it because that is what people will want and expect.” With student-created theatre, Schroeter says, “you can cast more diversely, and the tools you are giving students are much bigger because you are training them as story tellers.” Other teachers in her study, she says, “are aware of the issues, and are trying to address stereotyping and problematic representational practices by having conversations with their students about it and by not letting the problems disappear.”

So far, Schroeter says, “my research is reinforcing what I already know about the value of arts education—giving students the tools to come together and make and create original art.”

The Conversation: Make room for play as we stumble through this pandemic holiday and new year

We hear constantly how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the economy, personal finance, education, health and the work day. But what about play — how has the pandemic affected play?

The community capacity to provide play opportunities has been diminished by COVID-19 restrictions or closures, yet parental workload at home has generally grown, which in turn has strained parents’ mental well-being. Children’s play is now largely determined by parents’ ability to facilitate play in or around the home.

Research at the University of Regina has explored the effects that the pandemic appears to have on play. A recent study analyzed 10 conversations of between 60 and 90 minutes with parent participants describing their experiences in one-on-one virtual meetings, as well as hundreds of electronically submitted stories about play (or lack thereof) during the pandemic. The study is now undergoing peer review.

Since many communities are facing challenging second wave lockdowns or restrictions, we wanted to share our current recommendations for supporting play at home during the COVID-19 pandemic through the holidays and into 2021 based on our early findings and our research expertise in play.

A child at a playground in winter.
Making an effort to get outside even for a few minutes every day appears to be a critical step towards play, health and happiness during these challenging times.
(Whitney Blaisdell)

1. Prioritize your own wellness

Parental wellness is a critical factor to play during the pandemic. Adults whose wellness is suffering are more likely to become not only less playful, but to actively resist play. Conversely, adult wellness spills over to benefit children through an increased ability to be fun-loving, relaxed and playful. It is recommended that adults prioritize their own wellness throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

2. Value play

Play is often undervalued. A perceived importance of academic achievement over play for small children and an increasingly risk-avoidant society can threaten children’s opportunities to play.

Play is a wonderful tool for learning and cognitive development. More importantly, play is fun and life is short.

In the midst of a pandemic that has placed constant demands on people to adapt their professional capacities while lacking in-person contact, play can become a vital avenue for both adults and children to strengthen our outlook and resilience. Approaching the pandemic, as much as possible, as a novel opportunity for family togetherness and play allows us to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic with greater joy and to foster resilience.

3. Set a tone for neighbourhood play

The visibility of children playing outdoors appears to be contagious. Parents can normalize free play by offering their children more freedom to play or even discussing their desire for a more playful community with neighbours.

Children have generally been expected to meet public health guidelines in school that often include wearing masks and maintaining physical distance from people outside of their household; parents can ask and reasonably expect children to follow the same guidelines in their outdoor play. The current lack of structured activities combined with the professional obligations of many parents working from home has created an opportunity for community revitalization of children’s outdoor free play.

Brothers with a sled.
Parents can play a role in normalizing free play by offering their children more freedom to play outside or talking with neighbours.
(Shutterstock)

4. See children as drivers of play

Children often engage in play with items or ideas that appear unchildlike or unplayful. Their play may revolve around mature concepts like death, illness, justice and control. Psychologist Lev Vygotsky famously wrote: “In play a child is always above his average age, above his daily behaviour; in play it is as though he were a head taller than himself. As in the focus of a magnifying glass, play contains all developmental tendencies in a condensed form; in play it is as though the child were trying to jump above the level of his normal behaviour.”

Seeing children as drivers of their own play who are capable of conceiving, planning and executing their play will offer children an opportunity to increase their play stamina, while putting less stress on parents to entertain their children.

5. Arrange a playful environment

Homes with access to a private yard stand out as an advantage in offering opportunities for play. Of course, this is a privilege that many families do not have. However, a playful environment can be arranged with little to no spending. First, make the home feel as safe as necessary, so children can freely explore the home environment with minimal supervision.

Next, minimize toys. Children’s play relies surprisingly little on toys, and tidying toys can be a burden to parents who are currently experiencing a heavier domestic workload.

Finally, make outdoor access as easy as possible. Visible and easily accessed outerwear and footwear, and mats or towels near exterior doors to minimize mess, help make outdoor play more enjoyable and attractive.

Girl with soccer ball.
Spending time playing outdoors has been found to greatly contribute to one’s overall well-being.
(Shutterstock)

6. Get outside

Spending time playing outdoors has been found to greatly contribute to one’s overall well-being.

Trying to make an effort to get outside even for a few minutes every day appears to be a critical step towards play, health and happiness during these challenging times.

Overall, COVID-19 is wreaking havoc on our individual and collective health and social and emotional functioning. As we stumble our way through this pandemic, let’s remember that play itself is integral to how children can process and understand their experiences with the pandemic; it is how they make sense of the world.

Through attending to our own wellness, examining our attitudes towards play, normalizing child-structured outdoor play, framing children as drivers of play, arranging a playful environment and spending time outside, we too are attempting to be more playful and joyful during this challenging time. We wish the readers all the best in their own pursuit of play.

By Patrick J Lewis, University of Regina and Whitney Blaisdell, University of ReginaThe Conversation

Patrick J Lewis, Associate Dean, Professor ECE, University of Regina and Whitney Blaisdell, Master’s student, Faculty of Education, University of Regina

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Journey of Becoming a (Trans-multi)culturally Responsive Educator

Dr. Latika Raisinghani is a lecturer in science and environmental education at the Faculty of Education

Exponential growth in student diversity, the challenges posed by the current COVID-19 pandemic, and recent racial injustices in Canadian and global society, demand that we continue to explore ways to stimulate ongoing conversation and action that may invite education that is responsive to the needs of diverse students.

My journey to inquire about such an education began with exploring what culture is, how we define cultural diversity, and what culturally responsive education means in a multicultural country such as Canada. My doctoral study at the University of British Columbia exposed me to the complexities inherent in various dimensions of cultural diversity, the structural systemic inequities embedded in the education systems, and the politics of education that continue to marginalize many culturally diverse students in diversity-rich classrooms of Canada. What could be possible ways to respond to student diversity?

Informed by my doctoral research with K-12 teachers in Vancouver schools, I have conceptualized a (trans-multi)culturally responsive education framework as one way to do so. Amalgamating critical and transformational multicultural education perspectives and culturally responsive teaching, this framework invites educators to engage in critical self-reflective inquiries and initiate complicated conversations to interrogate the hidden curricula, recognize Other(ed) cultural knowledges (that are missing), and welcome multiplicity of lived experiences. Acknowledging culture as a dynamic way of life and cultural diversity as all cultural experiences that a student may bring into schools, a (trans-multi)culturally responsive education calls educators to cultivate critical cultural consciousness, embrace relational caring and develop empathetic relationships that may promote wholistic, socially-just, inclusive education, which cherishes diversity and engages with difference with solidarity and critique.

My efforts to invite educators in this transformational learning journey include organizing provincial professional development workshops for Ontario school principals and British Columbia teachers. As a member of the Faculty of Education at the University of Regina, I am continuing these efforts to invite (trans-multi)culturally responsive education through my engagements in teaching science and environmental education courses that focus on Indigeneity and responsiveness. My initiatives include contributing to the Fall 2020 Treaty 4 Gathering and co-initiating a Centre for Educational Research, Collaboration, and Development approved Knowledge Mobilization Project with Dr. Xia Ji on culturally responsive leadership for school leaders and administrators in Regina. Becoming a (trans-multi)culturally responsive educator is a life-long ideological and pedagogical commitment which necessitates what Mahatma Gandhi emphasized: “Be the change that you want to see in the world.” So, my journey of becoming a (trans-multi)culturally responsive educator continues, and I invite you to join me in this life-long journey.

By Dr. Latika Raininghani, Lecturer in the Faculty of Education

Autumn 2020 issue of in education published

A new autumn issue of the Faculty of Education’s in education journal is published. Read online or download the full issue at https://ineducation.ca/ineducation

Check out this stellar line-up of articles:

Unintentional Consequences: Facing the Risks of Being a Youth Activist
Darren E. Lund, Rae Ann Van Beers 3-17

Communicating Elevated Academic Expectations: Positioning Students as Thinkers with Ideas to Share
Jennifer Mitton, Lia Lewis, Savannah MacDonald 18-45

Digital Citizenship in Ontario Education: A Concept Analysis
Alexander Davis 46-62

Unleashing the Learners: Teacher Self-Efficacy in Facilitating School-Based Makerspaces
Marguerite Koole, Kerry Anderson, Jay Wilson 63-84

A Vision Towards Indigenous Education Sovereignty in Northwestern Ontario
Melissa Oskineegish and Leisa Desmoulins 85-102

Understanding Meaningful Exchanges: Mathematics Discourse Analysis and Complexity Thinking
Evan Throop Robinson 103-138
____________________________
in education is a peer-reviewed, open access journal based in the Faculty of Education at the University of Regina, in Saskatchewan, Canada. The journal has been in existence since 1993, but published its first issue as an online journal in December of 2009.

The editorial board invites scholarly articles and reviews of works that explore ideas in teacher education, as well as broader and more inclusive discussions in education. We envision works that augment the latitude and significance of the idea of education, while acknowledging the ubiquitous growth of the digital arts and sciences in the everyday practice of life and how that might (in)form notions of formal and informal education. We encourage the submission of high quality works that travel across the qualitative and quantitative research landscape engendering conversations in thoughtful and innovative ways.This may include but is not limited to works in the following areas: ethnography, poststructuralist, postmodern and postcolonial approaches, queer theory, arts-based research, bricolage, narrative inquiry, autoethnography, critical theory, phenomenology, hermeneutics, or mixed methods. Submit your manuscript at https://journals.uregina.ca/ineducation/about/submissions

Living in Colour: Blackness and Racial Justice and Equity in the Education Institution

Obianuju Juliet Bushi, PhD student, sessional lecturer, student advisor and newly elected Regina Catholic School Board trustee

The current coronavirus pandemic has created economic, social, educational, and political uncertainties in North America and worldwide. This pandemic has tested our systems and has changed the way we perform our daily living. Teaching and learning have taken a new form and classes have been restructured and redesigned to keep students and teachers safe and to minimize the spread of this deadly virus. In addition to the pandemic, education institutions have to respond to concerns and provide clear answers to tough questions from students, faculty, and non-teaching staff about their safety in school and the impact of COVID-19 on teaching and learning. Schools have also witnessed significant cuts in funding and resources that have affected the ways education resources become available and accessible based on needs, race, and class (Khalifa, 2013).

The issues of power and racial inequalities in schooling contexts have been a topic of discussion since the 1990s by many scholars of colour (see, for example, Derrick Bell, 1993; Gloria Ladson-Billings & Tate, 1995). In response to the inequitable access to education for minoritized students (Indigenous, Black, Latino, Asian, and other People of Colour), many post-secondary institutions have developed frameworks that address “whiteness” and are working to understand education policies and reforms (Khalifa, Dunbar & Douglas, 2013) and their impacts on Indigenous, Black, and People of Colour (IBPOC) students and faculty members. Discrimination and racial inequalities against IBPOC people are invisible to those who are not affected by them because they are endemic, engrained, and normalized in educational institutions and policies.

The unlawful killing of 46-year-old George Floyd on the 25th of May in the United States sparked unrest all over the world with thousands of concerned citizens taking a stance against racial injustice and police brutality against Black people. Many “Black Lives Matter” rallies were held across the country with hundreds and thousands of protesters showing their support and marching in solidarity.

As a Black student in the Faculty of Education, I have received moral and social support from fellow students, my supervisor, and senior administrators. This act of responsibility and support also shows that more needs to be done to address racial injustice and inequalities that IBPOC students and faculty may experience within and outside our Faculty. It also indicates that educational institutions need to move beyond conversations to actions—from liberal multiculturalism to critically relevant practices, from abyssal thinking to critical thinking and post-abyssal thinking (thinking from the realm of the “other” by the “other”) and from a non-racist to anti-racist practice—to address barriers and challenges that continue to impact academic success and personal growth of students and to promote a safe space for IBPOC faculty members to be their authentic selves. So, one may ask, how can an educational institution that embodies whiteness and Eurocentric practices promote blackness and black scholarship?

As many education scholars will agree, education is politics, and so is our curriculum because it is created from a lens that privileges a particular construction of knowledge and the record of knowledge, which more often than not, favours dominant culture. As a graduate student, I have enjoyed classes that allowed me to share my story without having to think and speak like the dominant population. I have also enjoyed classes that were interactive and engaging especially for IBPOC students. More often, our voices are silenced and our knowledge and experiences go unnoticed and undervalued. The Faculty of Education has allowed me to grow as an aspiring critically aware educator and activist and I have cherished the support and resources I have received and continue to receive.

I started my post-graduate studies in curriculum and instruction in the Faculty of Education in 2015, a couple of years after completing my MPA. Since my start date, I have been very fortunate to have been granted a much-needed Leave of Absence (Personal and Maternity) that allowed me to balance my studies and family life. I have also been a Sessional Lecturer at First Nations University for over eight years and a faculty advisor for a couple of years now. I have had the privilege of working with faculty members in the capacity of a graduate teaching assistant (GTA) that allowed me to experience and gain crucial knowledge in the teacher education program. I have also built intellectual relationships with students, faculty, and preservice and in-service teachers and have improved my knowledge of the K-12 system. These experiences have also inspired me to continue my research work in “exploring the perceptions of Black-African students (K-12) school experience and mental wellness in Saskatchewan,” an area I am passionate about. As a recently elected board trustee in the Regina Catholic School Division, I hope to continue to inspire young people to be more involved in their various communities and capacities. I am also very fortunate to be on the Board with dedicated and passionate trustees that understand the importance of putting students first.

By Obianuju Juliet Bushi, PhD student, sessional lecturer, student advisor and newly elected Regina Catholic School Board trustee

Click here to read Obianuju Juliet Bushi’s Opinion piece in CBC News “Sask.’s next government must address barriers Black people face.”

Systemic racism in education

Dr. Jerome Cranston, Dean/Professor

Racial justice and equity are the impetus behind Dr. Jerome Cranston’s research and teaching. As part of an interdisciplinary, international “community of inquiry,” Cranston studies topics that, in his words, “explore formal and non-formal teacher preparation and the ethical dimensions of school leadership with a particular focus on how capacity building in the education system can transform a set of seemingly random acts…into a just enterprise.”

Cranston’s family history explains this focus in part: His maternal grandparents who originated from tribal communities in what are now Nepal and Burma/Myanmar were “anglicized and evangelized as part of the colonial contagion,” says Cranston. His paternal grandfather, a travelling bookkeeper with the East Indian Rail Company, was killed in 1941 during a Japanese bombing of a railway station. His widowed grandmother, a mother of five, died the following year of malnutrition, an outcome of the British-manufactured famine in West Bengal. Singularly and collectively his family’s experiences shaped his earliest experiences of systemic racism.

Cranston says, “I accept a distant yet unvarying connection to the trauma that echoes through the colonized histories of my ancestors.” Yet, says Cranston, it is “impossible to talk about systemic racism without recognizing that it is not only a history, or a memory, but very much a current lived reality for Indigenous, Black, and People of Colour.”

“In the work that I do, race comes first,” continues Cranston. “It foreshadows the work I do and commit to do. From childhood, I’ve known myself to be consummately brown. When I looked in a mirror, I saw a brown face looking back. I endure in a society that doesn’t really want to make a space for me or to create a space for me to belong as I am. In my work, I’ve tried to work towards finding solutions through working with and alongside colleagues, to find ways that will bring greater racial justice.”

In defining systemic racism, Cranston says, “it is important to separate systemic racism from racists. There are individuals who are part of the structure who themselves may not be, in an overt sense, racist. Systemic racism is a pervasive power relation that is reinforced every day through lack of knowledge or ignorance—sometimes ‘willful ignorance,’ (Mills, 2007)—and through policies and practices that may appear to be neutral but have the effect of sustaining and fortifying a system.”

Attempting to dispel the common solution of the need to fix a broken system, Cranston says, “All of us are living in a system that has been imbued, fortified, and strengthened by white domination, white privilege, to the detriment of Indigenous, Black, and People of Colour. The system is doing exactly what it is meant to do. The system is not broken. Rather, the system is designed to do exactly what it was set up to do by the original colonial architects to privilege whiteness over everything else.”

As a critical race theorist and researcher, Cranston says he “uses race-conscious approaches to understand educational inequalities and systemic racism, and to find solutions that lead to greater racial justice for those denied it.” His transdisciplinary work interrogates policies and practices to highlight the overt, and uncover the covert, ways that colonial racial ideologies, structures, and institutions create and maintain racial inequality and injustice in the education system and beyond.

Cranston says, “With the release of the video showing the murder of George Floyd this past summer, it was impossible to ignore the extent of systemic racism in all of our social organizations, not just in policing, but in social services, health, justice and education.”

“The academy is not exempt from systemic racism,” says Cranston. In the academy, there are politics over who is cited, white-architected research methodologies, and salary and progression.

For those who don’t believe that systemic racism exists, Cranston points to three markers: “First, numerical data indicates that racialized people may not get hired into organizations, or may not be able to move into positions of leadership; Second, policies and decision-making processes determine the rules we use to govern ourselves: how we decide that decisions can be made and by who, may be designed to protect a Eurocentric white way of being and conducting business. Third, organizational culture— everything from communication style, to dress code, to the way we socialize—will favour white society: a privileged racial way of being that disadvantages Indigenous, Black, and People of Colour.”

“White supremacy is a fundamental structure, way of being, way of making sense of the social world. Most often associated with whiteness is the aspired version of beauty, intelligence and worth,” says Cranston. Other effects of systemic racism include racialized poverty levels and the effects of poverty on health and social determinants of health as well as education and learning.

Cranston says that what is needed is “the elimination of policies and practices that protect white supremacy and white privilege; the need to commit to enacting equity measures that dismantle the barriers that deny racialized students, staff and faculty opportunities to flourish; to change human resources policies and practices to create opportunities for racialized individuals to access and hold senior administrative roles; and to assemble a faculty and staff that more closely reflects both the diverse makeup of students we educate and a national pool of candidates.”

Because schools are a key site for the normalization of whiteness and white privilege (Cross, 2005), Cranston says it is important that those responsible for teacher preparation, preservice and in-service education, confront and reconsider how education from kindergarten through post-secondary has worked to buttress systemic racism. “I join with colleagues in the Faculty of Education at the University of Regina in committing that all learners gain a deeper understanding of our shared histories, the contemporary relationships, and the important work that needs to be done if we are ever to achieve reconciliation,” says Cranston.

Circle of Giving

The Florence & Grace Donison Bursary in Education

L-R: Dr. David Bloom and Suzanne LaRue

The impact of student awards is matched only by the powerful stories behind them—stories about the donors who had a deeply personal motivation to create them, the loved ones in whose honour they were named, and the student recipients whose lives have been changed for the better because of it. The Florence & Grace Donison Bursary in Education is no exception.

Remembering who Florence and Grace were will give a richer understanding of why the University of Regina alumnus Dr. David Bloom, who holds a Bachelor of Science degree, had a strong desire to establish the bursary in support of Education students.

Growing up in what was a Romanian ethnic enclave in Wood Mountain, Saskatchewan, Bloom’s grandmother Florence Precopciuc married a farmer, Constantin Donison, at age 15, with two daughters following. Having lived through the drought-stricken years of the Dust Bowl, and during a much different time in our history when running a farm was socially deemed as “men’s work,” Florence—who had no sons to help out on the farm—resolved to come to Regina where she worked and raised her two daughters, Elaine and Grace, on her own after her husband’s death.

The Romanian-born woman’s upbringing in poverty and lack of education did not deter her from teaching herself to read, write, and improve her English fluency. Listening to the radio and reading the newspaper were lifelong routines that were integral to her learning, as well as her ability to keep a pulse on local and global events.

In her adulthood, Elaine married a cinema manager, Marcus Bloom, and over the years, they welcomed three children, Joseph, David and Moira into the world. Tragically, they lost their mother due to illness when they were young, and their grieving father passed away not long afterward, caused by what Bloom believes was “a broken heart.”

L-R: Grace (aunt), Moira (sister) David, Joseph (brother), and Florence (grandmother)

The orphaned Bloom and his siblings were left to be raised by their grandmother and aunt Grace. The family’s apartment may have been small, but the love inside its walls was abundant. Bloom always held great admiration for his grandmother and aunt who co-parented him and his siblings. One memory that always comes back to him is how their primary caregivers consistently modelled a culture of reading, curiosity, and self-education in the household.

Another fond childhood memory Bloom cherishes is of the Regina Public Library’s bookmobile rolling into his neighborhood in Gladmer Park every Friday afternoon, and him signing out non-fiction books that fueled his passion for Canadiana, particularly French-Canadian history—a passion that was not outweighed by his ambition to become a doctor and devote his life to helping others.

Having watched his grandmother educate herself and independently become literate instilled the confidence in Bloom to chase that ambition, which led him to take his pre-med studies at the University of Regina where he double majored in Biology and Chemistry, with a minor in History. Financially disadvantaged, he was honoured to receive assistance by way of scholarships that covered his four years of tuition.

The generosity of the donors who had made those scholarships possible, breaking down economic barriers to ensure students like Bloom could succeed, was met with overwhelming gratitude that endured throughout the life of the then aspiring medical doctor. These gifts also planted a seed deep within Bloom’s heart to one day pay it forward and help others—just as other University of Regina donors, whom he will never forget, had helped him.

Bloom went on to complete his medical degree at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, and subsequently his studies in psychiatry at McGill University in Montreal. Although the self-declared “prairie boy” had planned to return to Saskatchewan and practise psychiatry, the pull to live in Quebec—the province he had spent years reading and dreaming about in his youth—would be too strong to resist.

Bloom and his wife Suzanne made their home in Montreal, where they raised their two sons. Whatever distance may separate Bloom from Regina physically is not nearly enough to separate him emotionally from his alma mater; to this day, he remains a vital part of our university community, as well as a committed member of our donor family.

“I view teachers as the backbone of our society and I view donors to the Faculty of Education (among others) as living supports for the precious work of teaching,” says Bloom, who is in his 37th year of teaching at McGill as an assistant professor in the Faculty of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry and the Chief of the Psychosis Program at the Douglas Institute. “If we can give to others, then it’s the right thing to do as a University of Regina alumnus, and a Canadian citizen. I believe it’s our duty to take care of our brothers and sisters, improve the fairness and equity of opportunity in our society regardless of one’s financial circumstances, and offer a beacon of hope to the current generation for a better future.”

“The inspiration to create the Florence & Grace Donison Bursary in Education came from my desire to honour the memory of my beloved grandmother and aunt in a meaningful and lasting way.” Bloom goes on to say, “the purpose was to help out deserving people who may not necessarily have the grades to win a scholarship, but have the potential to become admirable teachers.”

Kayla Ward, recent recipient of the Florence & Grace Donison Bursary in Education, after her virtual graduation ceremony, wrapped in the starblanket she was honoured with for having received the Spirit of SUNTEP award. The award is given in recognition of members of the Métis community and Indigenous communities at large who demonstrate commitment to leadership and active volunteerism. She was also presented with a hand-woven Métis sash to celebrate her graduation and other personal achievements.

Among such deserving people is Kayla Ward, recent alumna of the University of Regina and Saskatchewan Urban Native Teacher Education Program (SUNTEP). SUNTEP was established to ensure that people of Métis and non-status First Nations ancestry are adequately represented in urban teaching positions.Interestingly enough, both the founder and recipient of the Florence & Grace Donison Bursary in Education share something special in common—both were raised by their grandmothers, and saw their share of struggle.

“My grandmother and I were never well off financially,” says Kayla, who is of Métis (from Lebret) and Cree (from Peepeekisis Cree Nation) descent. “I began working at the young age of 15, and have paid my own way ever since. Receiving bursaries like the one Dr. Bloom established has allowed me to focus my time and energy on my academics, rather than my finances and working a second part-time job.

“With the help of his and other bursaries, I managed to maintain a high grade-point average and finish my degree with great distinction,” adds the Coronation Park Community School teacher. “Now, I strive to make a difference in children’s lives, just like the teachers before me have in mine. SUNTEP taught me the importance of integrating culture and identity into our teachings, which ultimately fostered my passion to teach children about the true history of Canada, and the importance of identity.”

Named bursaries and other academic awards are a testament to how acts of kindness can not only change the lives of others, but also touch their hearts forever. The Florence & Grace Donison Bursary in Education will endure as a memorable expression of Bloom’s admiration and love for his grandmother and aunt, a heartfelt tribute to the memory of two remarkable women, and a symbol of philanthropy.

“This bursary will continue to help many others in the future, and provide them with extra help that will be instrumental in their academic and career success, as it was in mine,” says Kayla. “For that, I am eternally grateful.”

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