Unlearn and Learn again – Lessons from Central American Educators
by Janet Nicol
“Unlearn-and learn again.” This is the philosophy of Daysi Marquez and Esperanza Tasies, educators from Central America who delivered non-sexist and inclusive workshops to BCTF teachers this past spring.
“We have to unlearn, so young people have a new vision of the world,” says Marquez, a secondary chemistry teacher in Honduras.
“It’s hard to change institutional structures,” says Tasies, a sociology professor in Costa Rica, “but you can make changes in the classroom. You can change students’ attitudes. Research shows this.”
A popular teaching activity which Tasies and Marquez shared with BC teachers is called “My Grandmother Told Me.” Participants were asked to write about an unforgettable event in the life of their grandmother, or other female elder, including the year which the event occurred.
Forming a circle-by-date sequence with Tasies in the centre, participants shared their grandmother’s story, starting with the earliest year. After each telling, Tasies taped the participant’s text to a spiral-shaped form, indicating the date sequence, drawn on flip- chart paper on the floor.
The result was an oral and visual collection of stories depicting women’s survival, strength, and endurance. Many contained “hidden” histories and injustices about women’s work and social lives.
“We all face inequality,” Marquez observes. “Men as well as women share the responsibility to create equality.”
As for differences between women teachers in Canada and Central America, Tasies says when Canadian participants are asked “who are you?” they use words such as “feminist, professional, and fighter,” while teachers in Central America describe their identity as “caring, a listener, and looking after others.”
Regardless, Tasies believes people need to listen more effectively. “There is a saying,” Tasies says, “It is better to have a big ear rather than a big voice.“
Rote learning, not critical thinking, has been the typical educational approach in Honduras. “This creates a submissive population,” Marquez says. Marquez says teaching critical thinking, as embedded in the non-sexist and inclusive workshops, helps improve the quality of life for Honduran youth coping with gendered violence, widespread teen pregnancies, and the highest rate of HIV-Aids in Latin America.
Both women are strong supporters of public education and teacher unions. Privatization of schools and the weakening of teacher unions in their region-and in North America-is a concern. “The non-sexist and inclusive workshops help strengthen our union,” Marquez believes. “We are supported by our members so the union executive is more supportive too.”
The sharing of cultures went both ways. While giving a teacher workshop in Kamloops, Tasies says she learned more about the painful legacy of Canada’s residential school system when her hosts, David Komljenovic, president of the local teachers’ union, and Paula Naylor, a member of the BCTF International Solidarity Committee, escorted her to the Secwepemc Museum. Tasies viewed a First Nations sculpture depicting a hostile adult and a frightened child whose eyes are covered by an eagle’s wings. “This is so the child won’t see anything ugly,” Tasies explains.
Tasies and Marquez concluded their Canadian trip by attending a conference of the Tri-National Coalition in Defense of Public Education, held at the University of BC. Delegates from teacher unions in Canada, the United States, and Central America shared experiences and strategies to strengthen public education in the face of hostile government attacks. The hard-working dedication of diverse teacher-delegates provided an uplifting conclusion to Tasies and Marquez’s visit.
As both women concluded, “There is sisterhood and solidarity among Canadian teachers and us. This shows there are no borders among teachers.”
The non-sexist and inclusive pedagogy project is a result of a 15-year collaboration between Central American teacher unions and CoDevelopment Canada, a nongovernmental organization that the BCTF supports.
For more information about the non-sexist and inclusive curriculum (in Spanish), go to pedagogianosexista.com.
Reprinted from BCTFTeacher magazine, September/November, 2016
A mural at COPEMH (Association of Secondary Teachers of Honduras).