Stories of dragons are not uncommon. And why not? Dragons are powerful, awe inspiring, and usually cautionary. Stories of dragons can cast them as charming protagonists or objects of fear to be hunted. In the stories where dragons conquer, I wondered, how do they keep their power afterwards? How would a dragon administrate the vanquished? This is a story of how a clever white dragon did such a thing by controlling a population through its education system.
I will briefly position myself non-Indigenous, so any claim I make hereafter regarding Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IK) is my interpretation of the works of Indigenous scholars and I am open to critique of the things I state.
The main character, Chunk, is semi-autobiographical. For years, I didn’t know the terms, words, or expressions for the neoliberalization of our education system that I raged against weekly. Like Chunk, I wanted to storm the dragon’s peak (wherever it was) and take it down. All I had to do was know who to convince and where to strike. Not so simple. Chunk, like myself, will learn how some problems may seem like a simple fix but are actually multifaceted and complex. This work is born from my feelings, as if there is a web of neoliberal logic throughout society; market values applied to things that don’t need it. This comic was an attempt to synthesize all of the interesting scholars and thoughts I had encountered in this “Study of Teaching” course.
But why did I choose to create comics as a scholarly paper? Simply because I could and I’d seen that it was possible. I felt like I had a good grasp of the theory in this course, I just wanted to use a more engaging medium and take on the personal challenge of creating comics; turning theory into images and words.
My two main influences for the comics route were Nick Sousanis and Scott McCloud. Scott’s McCloud’s Understanding Comics illustrates that images are a fundamental part of how humans communicate and that comics are not so simple, they’re complex. Nick Sousanis (partially building on McCloud’s work) took the medium a step further into the scholarly realm. His book Unflattening showed to me that complex topics could be covered, even simplified, by using comics.
So here is my first attempt at making comics. My attempt to visualize my interpretation of all the theory I’ve encountered in EDUB 7400, Study of Teaching.
Here we go,
A DRAMATIS PERSONAE
The White Dragon – the bad kind of dragon. rapacious hunger for land, wealth, and power over others. Hoarder of wealth. Suppressor of peoples. It’s watchful gaze bolstered by a network of spies and administrative controls.
Chunk – Barbarian & Dragonslayer – a somewhat ignorant, but good hearted brute from the borderlands. Has a force of personality and is eager to fight for justice. Descendant of the settler peoples.
Quip – Sage & Wizard- learned and well written. Not great in front of crowds. She has the theory but needs help putting it into practice.
Flip – Roguish Elf – gets by on guile and cunning. Helps disrupt the system out of spite of their privilege.
Root – Druid/Ranger – trying to recover their culture, looking for knowledge keepers, descendent of the Original people.
The Magistrate – willing servant of the Dragon. Their desire for power led them to a position of administration of Fort Strainer.
The Youth – from the surrounding communities. A mix of settlers and Originals. Some are despondent, some are complying just to be done.
Many centuries ago, a dragon came across a vast ocean seeking the spoils of new lands. A new land was found. The land was dubbed “terra nullius”, the empty lands. But the lands were not empty. They were alive. They had people. They had culture. They had history and knowledge. They had spirit.
It did not matter. The dragon had come to claim all that it set it’s gaze upon, which it felt was its destiny. The people of the land were helpless against the treachery and pestilence brought by the tyrant. The people of the land became the precarious Other (Janzen, 2020). To solidify its conquest, the dragon dispersed an army of sycophants to aid in the plunder of land and erasure of people. There were resources to discover, Forts to build and lay claim, and finally, the immigration of alien people to settle and populate.
Everyone knows dragons are hoarders and this dragon was no different. In order to maintain its power and increase its loot, the dragon needed history and institutions to back it up and keep the conquered peoples down. So the dragon spun a tale and set upon a great campaign to recast the systemic and structural domination of the original inhabitants of the land as a mere “cultural difference”. The settlers accepted this narrative and denied the power relations on which their privilege – and the Other’s inequality – depended (Schick, 2005). Over time the settlers developed a bad habit of disregarding the experiences and memories of the Other peoples (Donald, 2011).
But dragons are never content. They are filled with greed. And like other dragons, this dragon started to turn its panopticon of control upon everyone, even its “own” people. But dominated communities have always attempted to resist, subvert, reform, and in some cases take over those processes and institutions which impact the conditions of their lives and their chances for survival (Spring, 2004, as quoted from Raible & Irizarry, 2010).
P.2 – Some youth were literally abducted, not unlike the residential school system in Canada. The other youth at the Fort were figuratively lost; taken by the system to live a life of quotidian nihilism (Tuck, 2013).
P.3 – Chunk thinks “cultural differences” are what separates him and Root, an indigenous character. Chunk thinks these cultural differences of the Original peoples are what contributes to their disenfranchisement. Chunk gets caught thinking, “if they just…” statements. This is meant to reflect how the term “cultural differences” is often used to cover the disparity reinforced by systemic racism (Schick, 2005).
P.5 – The Forts of this land are meant to keep Otherness out. This point uses Donald’s (2011) ideas of “Fort Pedagogy”. Outsiders must be kept out or incorporated in order for progress to happen.
P.7.1 – Ms.Q was once a good teacher but now suffers from “demoralization” (Santoro, 2019). A “demoralized” teacher is not one who is burnt out or incapable, rather, they are actively trying to ameliorate their situation. But because of the context and conditions of their work, change is near impossible, so teacher’s lose their will to teach.
P.7.2 – As usual, Chunk just wants to dash into action. Root reminds him to, “imagine how to be simultaneously different and related”, a concept central to ethical relationality proposed by Donald (2011).
P.7.3 – The Magistrate gets to know the students only as test scores and statistics: data. Introducing the Magistrate is the first hint at, “the system’s incessant desire to know students through testing them,” (Janzen, 2020, p.169).
P.8.1 – Schooling can be a system of mastery over another (Janzen, 2020), especially the Other. The Fort uses knowledge to control. This knowledge is showcased as authorized, objective, fixed, but it is void of context (Janzen, 2020). Students are so busy trying to stay caught up or achieve a politically motivated standard, that they cannot fight the drivel being fed to them.
P.8.2 – Again, referring to Donald’s (2011) Fort Pedagogy, the Fort is meant to “overcome” the difference by assimilating or eliminating the foreign peoples and their knowledge systems.
P.10 – Raible & Irizarry (2010) discuss how teacher identities often side with, and hold up, the status quo and they end up hyper-surveilling youth that don’t as readily comply with the academic and social norms. At Fort Strainer, when there are behaviour or academic issues, teachers act as the system’s alarm that someone isn’t fitting the mold.
P.13 – I wanted to use this note as a chance to insert a quote I feel is important to understanding what the Fort does to students in its care.
“Children are precarious because of their Otherness and their reliance on adults for their safe and healthy existence. Reciprocally, this means that teachers are obligated to these children as their students. Importantly, children with greater social and economic disadvantages have exacerbated precarity. That is, their precarity is magnified through the persistent and pervasive categorizing, identifying, labelling, psychologizing, and pathologizing, which further marginalizes them,” (Janzen, 2020, p. 178).
P.14.1 – Buchannan (2015) writes about how teachers have a couple options when it comes to their agency within a system: step up or push back. Stepping up is going above and beyond and pushing back is resisting, negotiating, and reconfiguring. The educators at Fort Strainer had been broken in by the system. They didn’t see either of those as options and had (what I consider) the most severe case of demoralization: apathy. They just were. This is also very close to the ideas of quotidian nihilism mentioned by Tuck (2013).
P.14.2 – The “fix” in this tale is started by having teachers reject the isomorphisms and market value logics put in place by the Dragon (Tuck, 2013). Next, teachers needed to be trained on a systemic, long term scale, to be an army of “transformative intellectuals” as posited by Giroux and McLaren (1985). Intellectuals ready to teach students about how to grapple with not just academic subjects but with meanings power relations and structures as well. Finally, in the day to day interactions, ethical relationality (Donald, 2011) can be utilized to help learn from the precarious Other (Janzen, 2020).
P16 – The re-moralized teachers now felt an obligation to make things right. The teachers (formerly of the Fort) could now care for the students without all the tests, scores, standards, and social controls. They could carry out their ethical response while enduring the emotional risks by Janzen (2020).
Buchanan, R. (2015). Teacher identity and agency in an era of accountability. Teachers and Teaching, 21(6), 700-719. doi:10.1080/13540602.2015.1044329
Donald, D. (2011). Forts, Colonial Frontier Logics, and Aboriginal-Canadian Relations. In A. A. Abdi (Ed.), Decolonizing Philosophies of Education (pp. 91-111). SensePublishers.
Giroux, H. & McLaren, P. (1986). Teacher education and the politics of engagement: The case for democratic schooling. Harvard Educational Review, 56(3), 213-238.
Janzen, M. D. (2020). Un-knowing the child: Towards ethical relations with the precarious Other. Reconceptualizing Teacher Education Worldwide: A Canadian Contribution to a Global Challenge (169-190). University of Ottawa.
McCloud, S. (1994). Understanding comics: [the invisible art]. New York: HarperPerennial.
Raible, J., & Irizarry, J. G. (2010). Redirecting the teacher’s gaze: Teacher education, youth surveillance and the school-to-prison pipeline. Teaching and teacher education, 26(5), 1196-1203.
Santoro, D. (2019, August 12). Demoralized: When teachers can’t do the work. The Late Bell (podcast). https://youtu.be/hge42mWDQ8I
Schick, C., & St. Denis, V. (2005). Troubling national discourses in anti-racist curricular planning. Canadian Journal of Education/Revue canadienne de l’education, 295-317.
Sousanis, N. (2015). Unflattening. Harvard University Press.
Tuck, E. (2013). Neoliberalism as nihilism? A commentary on educational accountability, teacher education, and school reform. Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, 11(2), 324-347
Educator. Skills: reading, coaching & shooting hoops, strumming guitars, talking to humans, gaming, consuming caffeine, scribbling and doodling, making foods.