I look out the window and what do I see? A world of wonder that stimulates my curiosity, and opens my eyes to a world that is different from mine. I do this so I can gain insight into how others work, live, and feel; their history, myths, and innovations. I see things I wouldn’t otherwise see. This window is bright and colourful; my teacher helps me open the latch.
Our New Zealand Curriculum allows freedom of choice and exploration for teachers and students to value window texts (texts and contexts that are foreign to the worlds of the learner). These window texts help students see the world through different eyes and perspectives. This is a key part of our curriculum. It helps our young people get prepared for a future society.
The opposite of window texts are mirror texts. I look in the mirror and I recognise experiences, contexts, worlds that are similar to mine. These texts and contexts reflect my culture, values and beliefs. I look in and see myself. The mirror is metallic and shiny; my teacher holds it for me.
When we have our learners at the centre of our curriculum choices, we ensure our texts and contexts are evenly balanced with both mirror and window texts. All of these choices are critical, because they send out subtle and not-so subtle messages about whose knowledge is important, what success looks like, what achievement matters and whose worldviews dominate. On the positive side, J. Cummins writes:
“Students who are empowered by their school experiences develop the ability, confidence, and motivation to succeed academically. They participate competently in instruction as a result of having developed a confident cultural identity…”
A turning point for me; that exemplifies the importance of this balance and the impact it has on our Pasifika learners, was listening to a student reflect on his educational experiences. As part of a professional learning and development workshop, University of Auckland Pacific students were invited to share their reflections on their educational experiences as Pacific young people in the compulsory sector. A young Tongan male exposed the fact that his Tongan world, contexts, heros, values or history were never acknowledged in any way or form through his journey as a learner. This imbalance of mirror texts left him feeling marginalised; like his fāmili (Tongan word for family) worldview did not warrant a mention about what was and is important to him
This experience led him to studying Pacific Studies at the University of Auckland to try and tip the scales into balance.
How can we ensure our learners get a balance of window and mirror texts, so that they grow with confidence and build a strong sense of cultural identity that is rich and valued in your curriculum choices?
Quite often in an honest effort to be culturally responsive teachers and schools tokenise culture rather than building on cultural contexts for authentic learning. It goes beyond using Pacific names in mathematical problems, or tapa cloths on walls.
Misatauveve Dr Melani Anae (Senior Lecturer, Director of Research, Pacific Studies, Te Wananga o Waipapa, University of Auckland) states what is urgently needed is ethnic enhancement programmes i.e. teaching students the socio-political and historical contexts of Pacific cultures and peoples in the context of their learnings. For example, teaching them (within the primary/secondary/tertiary sectors) the socio-political and historical contexts of the myth/song/performance they are learning about, when cultural dances are being performed.
A starting point would be teachers allowing choice, valuing Pacific texts and heroes, critical analysing of the negative stereotypes that overflow in media, and ensuring Pacific ākonga can be proud of what they see in the mirror that the teacher holds for them.
Window image: CC Public Domain: https://pixabay.com/en/window-open-ocean-sea-beach-1163609/
Man looking in mirror: our own creation of an image by an unknown artist.
Scales image: by Eva Brosnan: http://unisci24.com/322481.html