Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Rights school offers new perspectives

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During the dog days of summer, as the sultry month of July turns into August, it's the perfect time for mid-year contemplation. Kids can be found in parks, playgrounds and pools, enjoying time at lakes and cottages, as well as being kept active in urban programs and day camps.

Teachers too are enjoying their well-deserved vacations. However, every year a whole lot of teachers opt to forgo part of their vacations and go back to school.

This summer -- like every summer -- the faculty of education at the University of Manitoba fills its classrooms with teachers. Teachers and principals return to school to engage in coursework and push their understanding a little deeper. This year, one of those sites for learning was in a new course that was developed and delivered in collaboration with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

This Summer Institute, Teaching and Leading for Human Rights Education, offered teachers an opportunity to take an in-depth and critical look at human rights and human rights education. The Summer Institute examined the theories, topics and issues in relation to human rights education, particularly within the context of the establishment of the museum. Teachers and administrators were pushed to consider notions of story and narrative in relation to human rights in order to ask questions, such as: What and whose stories get told, and told by whom and for what purpose(s)?

Because of the collaborative nature of the course, the 25 teachers who took part were given a unique opportunity to understand the ideas behind the bricks and mortar of the museum and be exposed to the expertise of its staff as well as scholars and authors who work in the field of human rights.

For example, the teachers were fortunate to learn from Allan Sibley about how the architectural design of the museum "speaks" and how the building is much more than a container of exhibits.

Clint Curle, head of stakeholder relations for the museum, outlined some of the tensions embedded within the design and creation of exhibits related to human rights.

Emily Grafton, research curator of indigenous content, conveyed to teachers the traditional and colonial histories of museums, particularly in relation to indigenous peoples.

Besides spending a day in the new Manitoba Teachers' Society-sponsored classroom at the museum, teachers also spent two days at the Murdo Scribe Centre on Selkirk Avenue, home to Manitoba Education's aboriginal education directorate, working with Helen Robinson-Settee and Myra Laramee to consider more deeply the histories and rights of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples and how these issues can -- and must -- be examined more deeply within our classrooms.

The course was an intense 10-day event. The teachers who came from across Manitoba and worked in grade levels that varied from early years to adult education engaged in questions about history and narrative in order to critically reflect on their own practices as teachers and educational leaders, to consider the stories our education system, our schools and we as educators tell, via curriculum, material and resource decisions and portrayals of oppression.

In doing so, we invited scholars from across our campus and from other disciplines to bring a broader perspective of human rights through lenses of law, history, art, storytelling and child psychology.

In our work throughout this course, Teaching and Leading for Human Rights Education, teachers were pushed to consider their places of privilege and power and were asked: How might we, individually and collectively, think within a human rights framework and consider actions that will make the world more just. As far as "summers off" for teachers, it's our hope this one will be hard to beat.

Melanie Janzen is an assistant professor and the director of the school experiences office in the faculty of education at the University of Manitoba.

Jerome Cranston is an associate professor and the associate dean (undergraduate) in the faculty of education at the University of Manitoba.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 5, 2014 A9

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