Monday, 12 February 2018

When your lesson has too many errors for comfort...

In light of the Gerald Stanley verdict and the fact that my grade 11 classes are learning about modern Indigenous issues in Canada via The Outside Circle, I decided that our "Article and/or Video of the Week" (AVoW) would be focussed on Colten Boushie's murder. Despite having a relatively natural entry point, I wasn't sure how to approach the subject. I knew that some of my students would believe that Stanley acted appropriately, as Boushie and his friends were trespassing and attempting to steal. Additionally, some of them, last week, told me that the only reasons stereotypes exist is because I (and others like me) talk about the stereotypes. They believe that if we just didn't talk about stereotypes, they wouldn't exist.

I spent a lot of time over the week-end figuring out how I was going to bring the topic into the classroom, reading articles and watching videos. I considered waiting to discuss the trial at the end of our unit on The Outside Circle, because then students would have a better understanding of the ongoing impacts of colonialism and racism in Canada. My first error was not going this route.

Instead, I chose to show the clip "Racial tension front and centre at Colten Boushie Trial". I chose this clip because it predated the outcome of the trial and because it gave voice to both sides: the reporter spoke with Boushie's uncle and farmers from the area. I gave the students the following "look-fors": Colten's uncle's thoughts; fallout from the possible verdicts; Facebook comments; farmers' perspectives; role of communication.

After the video, I shared that Stanley was found not guilty of murder in the death of Boushie, and that the Stanley's defence did not focus on Stanley defending his property, but rather "hang fire". I also included that Boushie had been shot in the head. The discussion went smoothly until we got to the Facebook comments, which are racist. We unpacked what these comments meant, and I mentioned that there were many more comments of a similar vein on various websites. Here comes my second error; students asked if there were any racist comments against white people and I responded with something along the lines of "racism against white people isn't real". (This is an idea that deserves more unpacking and nuanced discussion, and I did it a disservice in my offhand comment.)

Here comes my third error. A student asked if I had any proof of the multitude of racist comments being posted. Obviously there are, but I just used the first article that I found and all of the racist comments were from the same person, so my point fell apart. Then class was over. (I have since compiled a sampling of the racist comments, but I don't know if it is something to bring back up in class tomorrow.)

Fortunately, I teach grade 11s the next period, so I had the insight from my errors to change the course of the class. We watched the videos with the same look-fors, but in the discussion, I spent a lot of time listening to the students and asking them questions to have them clarify and, hopefully, challenge their thinking. From what I understand, from the students who spoke, they don't think race had anything to do with either the shooting or the verdict. Nor do they think that racism or bullying is a problem.

I'm not entirely sure how I'm going to address my classes tomorrow. We need to finish our writing for the AVoW video. After that, I'm not sure. Do I just move along with The Outside Circle? Do I need to apologize for my errors? Do I explain my errors? Do I have them read this post? Do I discuss bias, my bias, and that my goal is for them to be open to other ideas, even when the ideas are uncomfortable or outside their lived experience? Do I need to set a goal for myself to be open to various interpretations even if I believe they are racist? Should I try to address the trial once we're done The Outside Circle? Do I have them do some independent exploration of the trial?


Here is a link to my plan for tomorrow. (Still a work in progress.)


  1. Oh, my. I'm fearful. I'm planning on addressing the case with the DHP students this week (because of a variety of other issues, I can't do it until Thursday) and now I'm scared! Thank you for the video - I hadn't figured out how I'm going to start.
    I like your lesson plan for today - it is honest and it puts it back on them to think about a verdict (whether or not they can see the racism involved). I think you have to go back to it. The way you have it set up, lets them work through it.
    I wonder... did you do any privilege activities with them? I've shared a slideshow I created. It might make them more aware? Or because they are already on the defensive they might not be open to it?
    I also think that you have to remember that we can't always have an immediate impact the way we want to. Sometimes ideas that challenge students' thinking take time to simmer. It may be the next time something like this happens (because we know it will) that a few of them think - 'hey, maybe Mrs. Le was on to something when she talked about that other trial.'
    Good luck! I'll be thinking about you today.


    1. Don't be fearful...learn from me! (Please let me know how tomorrow goes.)

      I didn't do any privilege activities with them. Honestly, I chose the video I chose, because I just wanted to introduce the case to them. I didn't feel like the video was particularly biased. I felt like the video was stating a fact: there's racial tension in Battleford. The class took a turn when we talked about the Facebook comments

      Thanks for the reminder that our impact isn't always immediate. I think back to some of my high school beliefs (ie. we don't need feminism, what's Ms Collis on about?), and am thankful that I had teachers who talked about hard things.