Gender is Like An Ocean
In 2016, students from Delta Senior Alternative School in Toronto and teacher candidates in the Master’s of Teaching (MT) program at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto (OISE) read the book, Beautiful Music for Ugly Children(2012) by Kirstin Cronn-Mills (http://kirstincronn-mills.com), which chronicles the journey of one high school student as he transitions from female to male. Then, students and teacher candidates worked together to design curriculum and create arts-based projects in response to social issues raised in the book, while co-researching that process. Classroom teacher, Sarah Evis, who inspires student-driven learning that focuses on a variety social justice issues states, “If I don’t do risky work in my teaching, I’m not interested in teaching. Implicit in our work is that students learn something and then, they can go out and be agents of change as well.” Throughout the film, teacher candidates share some of the struggles they experiences with student-driven learning, as well as how the content of the book impacted their own thinking and values around gender. One teacher candidate admits, “It was a little more uncomfortable that I had anticipated, simply because not having a rigid or clearly defined game plan for each session that we had with the kids, or really, a defined end-game. Everything was from the ground up from the minds of these young people. It’s so different than how we traditionally look at education. It turned out to be a really great process because the ending was phenomenal.” Another teacher candidate reveals, “I had a very binary idea of gender. But, going through this project, reading the book, and having that moment of ‘I’m wrong’—and you have to figure that out—was a little bit of a startling point for me. So, where I am now, I would say definitely an advocate and an ally.” One student says this about the importance of doing inquiry-based projects in the classroom: “A good friend of mine came out as trans. I feel like if other schools did more projects like this, it could help so many more people.” Another student declares, “We have to be aware of what’s going on in the world, what’s happening. It’s not just us, it’s not just our lives, we have to know what’s going on around us.” Disruptive, inspirational, awe-inspiring, fun, challenging, educational, and life-changing are just a few of the one-word descriptions that students use to express what it meant to work on this research project. As part of the Addressing Injustices Project, Gender is Like an Ocean is a powerful 47-minute documentary that presents a poignant example of how student-driven learning and arts-based inquiry can be incorporated into classrooms.
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