Friday, August 12, 2016

First time lucky: Ignorance is Bliss

Governor General's Conference
In my last post, I wrote about the Governor General's reunion conference I attended in the spring.  Over a decade a go, I wrote a collection of lessons for grade 4/5 Social Studies about the Japanese Canadian internment in the 1940s. That resource received one of the Governor General's award for Teaching Canadian History.

Landscapes of Injustice
Fast forward to last year when I was asked to write some similar lessons for a project research project called Landscapes of Injustice. Landscapes is massive.  It is centred in the University of Victoria and is headed by a history professor there, Jordan Stanger-Ross.  His vision is to investigate the issue of Japanese Canadian internment and relocation by focusing on the topic of dispossession.  "What is dispossession?" you might ask, (you might because I know I did).  Dispossession is the forced sale of the Japanese Canadians, which in their case was unusual because the proceeds were used to pay for their own incarceration. 

The project, which is in year 3 of 7, includes other universities (including Ryerson and Simon Fraser University) and several other partner groups, institutions and museums (including the Royal BC Museum, the Pier 21 Immigration Museum, and the Nikkei National Museum).  The project is arranged into several organizational structures called clusters.  The clusters are mainly academic research groups (including land titles and government records, oral histories, GIS digital mapping, etc.) and have been going through an archiving mountains of data. 

So where do I come in?  Apart from the academic research, Jordan wants to engage the public and one of the ways is to have a cluster for Teaching Resources.  Mike Perry-Whittingham is chairing the secondary lessons, and I am doing the elementary.  As a grade 2 teacher, it is a really great experience to work alongside professors, grad students, community members, and museum curators.  I get a chance to see some worlds I know nothing about.

Shouldn't it be easier the second time?
How are the lessons coming?  Well............

Compared to the first set of lessons, these ones have been slow coming.  And that's the reason for this blog post. 

The Magic of the First Time
I was watching the Olympics last night, and Canadian swimmer, Penny Oleksiak, in particular.  Penny burst to the end and tied for gold, but the part that really stuck with me was watching Penny in the warm up room.  She was so loose, so happy just to be there.  She is obviously a fierce competitor, and has won 4 medals at this Olympics, but the expectations for her at these games was to soak in the experience and just get ready for 2020. 

Okay, okay, I can't hold myself up to a 16 year-old athlete, but I do see some parallels about going beyond expectations the first time you do something.  When I wrote the first set of internment lessons, looking back, I really didn't know what I was doing but with that I had no great expectations upon me.  Just like Penny.  The first time, I was loose and just went for it.  Just like Penny. I had fun and had no way to fail.  Just like Penny.  I am inspired by Penny because she reminds of my students: they don't know what they don't know, and just do the best they can, enjoying the experience as much as possible.  I love that first time thrill.

Great Expectations
Now with Landscapes, I am feeling the expectations.  I am working with a bunch of scholars.  They have mountains of work to do and have huge expectations for themselves.  They take their work very seriously and must feel the pressures of targets for grant funding, professional integrity, and out and out scholarly discovery.  I did a good job before, and I think people expect me to do the same or better.  Actually, that last part is not true, instead *I* expect me to do the same or better.

Keep the Wonder
But I know myself well enough to know that that approach does not work for me.  I need to stay loose like Penny, just enjoy the experience, focus on the task, and see what happens when I do my best.  I also admire physicist Richard Feynman, not just because he was brilliant, but he saw the world with a child-like wonder.  He had a great passion for how things worked, but also pulled pranks, played the bongos, and made up his own nonsensical language.  He always had this great grin like he was in on the greatest inside joke. 

So for me and this Landscapes task, and for life and for my students is all about maintaining that first time wonder.