Iroquois Corn in a Culture-Based Curriculum: A Framework for Respectfully Teaching About Culture – CORNELIUS (CSS)

CORNELIUS, Carol. Iroquois Corn in a Culture-Based Curriculum: A Framework for Respectfully Teaching About Cultures. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1999. 294.p. Resenha de: BRADLEY, Jon G. Canadian Social Studies, v.35, n.1, 2000.

“The greater the ignorance the greater the dogmatism.”
Sir William Osler, 1902, Montreal Medical Journal

As I entered the staff room, I became an unintended participant in a mini-drama that was unfolding with all the fury and vitriol that such heated staff room debates can generate. The two teachers, standing toe to toe, were exchanging what any pupil would recognize as ‘those looks.’ Clearly, my unexpected entry had interrupted their oral exchange. Once determined that I was not of the school or of the Board and, in fact, was an outsider from the university, I became their self-elected referee. A winner and, thereby a loser, had to be determined and I had been chosen to render judgement!

Briefly, the two elementary teachers were arguing philosophies of education and, as we all know, this is in and of itself dangerous to do within school grounds. Teacher 1 had just erected her monthly hallway bulletin board display of grade five student work around the theme of Northland Indians. Teacher 2 had just seen the display and had commented to Teacher 1 that some of the pupils’ written and pictorial perceptions about native peoples were inaccurate. Additionally, Teacher 2 had apparently forcefully indicated that such “insensitive” and “ignorant” depictions had to be immediately removed. Teacher 1, as one might expect, took great personal umbrage to this criticism and had rebutted that pupil opinion was valid and it was not up to Teacher 2 to force her own ‘narrow’ beliefs on others. Enter the innocent university visitor.

“No matter what grade level – kindergarten to college level – whether in history, literature, or social studies, the stereotypes, omissions, and distortions about American Indians continue to pervade educational materials. What is the basis, the underlying assumption behind these images of the noble savage, savage savage, or the vanishing race?” (17).

Cornelius has written a most thought-provoking and, at times, disturbing book. This is not a volume for the faint-hearted! Cornelius asks some terribly important questions and openly challenges what many North Americans might well consider to be ‘truths’ and ‘facts’ about the First Nations peoples. Additionally, several precepts concerning general curriculum foundations and design are challenged by Cornelius. Unlike many other volumes that centrally seek a more literate or a more academically knowledgeable teacher, Cornelius asks the more difficult and deeply fundamental questions related to how minority groups are portrayed within our educational system. To a certain extent, Cornelius suggests that Native studies can only be accomplished with dignity if one operates from an assumption of cultural equality.

Basing her reflections on her own personal-practical knowledge as well as using the Haudenosaunee culture as a touch-stone, Cornelius creatively and delicately strips away imposed curriculum designs to reveal another that is deeply rooted in mystical pasts and cultural depths. Metaphorically centering the cultural dimension upon the power and spirit of corn, she deftly intertwines historical and contemporary issues so as to illustrate a multicultural curriculum in the making. Cornelius does not simply state or attempt to make a case for better, more or nicer native curriculum; rather, she offers the reader a grounded philosophical framework that emanates directly from the culture itself. In a sense, the reader is taken on a winding journey that weaves history and curriculum together in a meaningful entity and, in the process, forces the reader to confront the surfacing contradictions.

Iroquois Corn in a Culture-Based Curriculum provides educators at all levels with a model for curriculum development. This is a model that emphasizes cultural strengths and clearly offers an alternative to schema that suggest there is a dominant culture to which all others must be subservient.

Jon G. Bradley – McGill University, Montreal.

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