In “Outwitted,” poet Edwin Markham writes: “He drew a circle that shut me out— / Heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout. / But love and I had the wit to win: / We drew a circle that took him in!”
Early last December, the city of Winnipeg served an important role as textbook and teacher for the Grade 10 “Imagine” initiative at Rosthern Junior College (RJC). For five days students engaged with various communities, museums and speakers to explore themes of insiders and outsiders, with a specific focus on Indigenous-settler relationships in historic and contemporary Canada.
Markham’s words in his epigram “Outwitted” guided inquiry and reflection throughout the week. Students considered, for example, how designations like “heretic” and “rebel” have been used to isolate and oppress Canada’s First Nations. At the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the symbolism of being shut out was brought to life through an emotional “blanket exercise.” And, significantly, the invitation by an Indigenous elder to participate in a sharing circle offered everyone an opportunity to practise “drawing others in.”
The value of this place-based approach to education was made evident in the kinds of reflections students offered about their experience. After a visit to Winnipeg’s North End, one student asked, “Why do people stereotype this neighbourhood? Haven’t they met the amazing people who live here?” Other students were deeply affected by the experience of children in residential schools and the “60’s Scoop,” and wondered openly about humanity’s capacity for harm, resilience and hope.
Facilitating cross-curricular and place-based learning experiences like the “Imagine” trip to Winnipeg are foundational objectives of RJC’s new educational initiatives. After the success of this approach in Grade 10, new initiatives for grades 11 and 12 and the community were launched last September.
The Grade 11 initiative, “Thrive,” addresses the concept of shalom expressed through healthy relationships with self, community and God.
In Grade 12, “Explore” students are invited to consider what vocation means and how their skills and leadership potential might be utilized post high school.
Lastly, the “Belong” initiative invites students of all grades to practise living in community with their peers.
Much like Markham’s poem suggests, an initial response to issues of exclusion and injustice must be a “drawing in” of others. By inviting students to engage with big questions, such as Indigenous-settler relationships, and through making connections between subjects and communities, RJC is truly a place to imagine, thrive, explore and belong.