Monday, 12 June 2017

The Land that Sustains Us

Social Studies Lessons for Kenney Part 3

Shortly after my husband and I married, we backpacked throughout Southeast Asia. I relished seeing the Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon and the Golden Temple in Bangkok. I loved travelling by boat over the Chao Phraya and seeing the Irrawaddy flow through the rice paddiies of Burma, as it was called back them. I was careful not to touch the monks in their saffron robes. 

Pagan, Burma
Part of my excitement stemmed from the teaching of my grade eight teacher Ydella Dulcetta. Daughter of an Australian who came to Canada to teach school, Ydella loved the classics and bitterly complained that her parents had forbidden her from studying in Rome. Her revenge was to learn and teach Latin and marry Joe, an Italian she had met on vacation. Her teaching style was based on rote learning and personal stories. She told stories about the characters from history and about her own life. At the beginning of every class a student would give a 10 question quiz on the course content. Whoever had the highest mark created the quiz for the next day. Today I can recite the names of the largest 5 islands of Indonesia in order of size and the religions, capital cities and principal rivers and chief exports of SE Asia. And I know more about the Dulcetta's home life than I probably have a right to.
On the Chao Phraya
In grade 9 Wayne Mould was my Social Studies teacher. We spent weeks designing the ultimate city. I loved his class. I felt deeply connected to the lands we studied.

Long before I was born, departments of education in much of Canada decided that Social Studies should be an interdisciplinary subject encompassing history, geography, law, politics, economics and the social sciences. Geography, sadly, has taken a back seat in our issues-focused Social Studies culture. It's unfortunate because I think everything begins with the land. The land sustains us. The land provides us with an economic base. The land shapes culture and interactions. 

Today, we think about "the land" especially in regard to our relationship to it. How closely are we tied to a particular piece of land? How do we treat it? Is it possible to "own" it? Why do treaties about the land matter? Who decides what activities should occur on it? Who cleans it up? What happens to all of humanity if it is damaged? We talk about it as something of particular significance to our First Nations brothers and sisters, but really, it is a tangible living thing that impacts us all. No matter what kind of "relationship" we have with the land, without it, we are nothing.

Near Fawcett, Alberta
When my daughter was in kindergarten, she came home crying one day. "What's the matter, Missy?"  I asked.  "Mademoiselle Cantin says we are killing the earth. And I love the earth!" A case of overkill for my over-sensitive daughter. But a lesson that cannot be taught often enough. 

Everything starts with the land.