Episode 34: Unraveling Schooling with Reena Spansail

In This Episode:

There’s a difference between education and schooling, and in this episode with teacher and artist Reena Spansail, we explore what that difference is. We also dive into the ways we need to be critical of our current school systems, and Reena walks us through the history of the evolution of schooling systems in the United States. We talked about what it would look like to begin to shift this and move away from the current schooling dogma and to a more expansive view of learning and education.

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Episode Transcript:

Episode 34: Unraveling Schooling with Reena Spansail

Summary Keywords

schooling, education, systems, people, students, school, sorts, educator, talking, learning, happening, unraveling, class, Reena, support, teachers, conversation, specific, residential schools, place

Speakers

Reena Spansail, Kelsey Mech

Kelsey Mech  00:05

Welcome to the Unraveled Life Podcast. I’m Kelsey Mech, a registered clinical counselor and creative coach. On this show, we’re committed to unraveling the stories, expectations and beliefs of our capitalist and patriarchal society, and reconnecting to who we were before the world told us who we should be. I’m so excited. You’re here. Let’s unravel this together. 

Hi, hi. I’m so excited to be here with you, as always. And today, I have a super awesome conversation to share with you that I had with a dear friend and fellow creative of mine, Reena Spansail. I’ll share a bit more momentarily with you about who Reena is. But first, I want to just give you a heads up that in this conversation, we dive deep into unraveling our schooling systems, and into exploring the history of schooling, particularly with a focus in the United States, because that’s the context in which Reena lives and works, but in a way that I think can be replicated and applied anywhere. And we also explore some initial steps into how we can start to look at schooling differently. And Reena does a beautiful job of outlining some of the sort of ways in which our school systems continue to uphold things like capitalism and colonialism, and the patriarchy and all of these good things. So it’s a really, really juicy conversation. And I hope you will stick around.

Now without further any. Without any further ado, let me introduce Reena to you. She does a beautiful job of introducing herself during the podcast as well, so I’m not going to give you too much of an in-depth introduction because I’ll allow her to do that in her own words. But here are a few tidbits that she shared with me that I thought were so lovely. I wanted to share them with you as well. 

Reena Spansail is of and for All of it. She’s here for the Here and Now, and hopefully you are too. Reena is a multimedia artist, activist and public school arts educator. She is a descendant of mountain and coastal people and feels deeply grateful to have been born and raised in the shadow of the Sierra Nevada Alps. She is devoted to envisioning and weaving a future of ecosystemic, synchronicity and health. Her visual artwork has been shown all over the world. She holds a BA in Art and English and a master’s in secondary education. She has an animus, which she talks about a little bit more when she introduces herself. Her first passion is re evolution. Her second is education. And her third is marks on the page. She offers customized talismanic art objects through her webshop, which I’ll be linking in the show notes. And she is totally open if you are interested in contacting her directly about any of the things we talked about in the podcast or all things, art. So without further ado, I would love to introduce you to the conversation I have with Reena. Hi, Reena, welcome to the podcast.

Reena Spansail  03:42

Hi, Kelsey, thank you so much for having me on. Truly, this is a bucket list items. So check

Kelsey Mech  03:49

that so sweet. I am so happy that you reached out because I’ve been wanting to find someone to talk about education and teaching and schooling. And I don’t know why I didn’t think of you immediately. So I’m so glad this has worked out. I would love for you to start us off by just telling us a little bit about who you are the work you do in the world. So we can kind of have a little bit of a context for this conversation. Of course,

Reena Spansail  04:16

of course. Thank you for the invitation. So my name is Reena Marie Spansail, and I am many things among them. Sort of what qualifies me to be here talking about this topic with you is that I am a public school educator in the state of Nevada, in the so called USA. So I have been a licensed public educator now for almost five years. I was just talking to the state today about how to renew my license. So I have been involved in education in some capacity formally and informally. But as a teacher, not as a student for about the last nine years or So, but I’ve been a fully licensed and in school working as a public educator for about the last five years. So I currently have the delights of teaching ceramics, high school ceramics. So this is for students ages about 14 to 18. Right, I have a mixed class. And I think it’s really wonderful that it’s a mixed class, because I’ve got my 14 year old freshman, and next to my seniors, and you know, just the dynamics are funny. So I’m a facilitator of Creative Learning. I also used to teach English. So I’ve also been a facilitator of linguistic and, and, you know, language learning, literature learning. And so that’s kind of my nine to five, if you will, except it’s more like seven to three, job. And, and I am really grateful to be doing the work that I do, I think that like, just to put it out there first, I’m certainly going to say some critical things in this conversation, because this is a critical dialogue space, right. And thank you for hosting a critical dialogue space. But I do want to say here at the front, that I feel very privileged to be able to be in the position that I’m in as an arts educator, that’s, you know, there’s not a lot of positions available for arts educators. So the fact that I’m here, in this capacity in this position, so early in my career is truly a privilege. And it’s also of course, a privilege to be engaging with youth, especially youth that are like sort of coming of age, at this time. In the US and I work in, I work in basically an inner city school. I work in a very urban school environment for like context. So it’s kind of me the educator. I’m also me the artist, multimedia artist, I do ceramics, right, I do painting. I do all sorts of fun stuff with ink and pencils, and all sorts of analog art supplies, and more than our analog art supplies kind of a gal. I have mad respect for digital artists. But I am not one of them. So I’m also an artist, I’m a cat mom, my cat is here. Watching making sure I don’t forget to mention that I am a cat mom. And I live in a historic home that I’m in the process of renovating with my family. So I’m also kind of a home tinkerer, I suppose. And I’m an animist, that is the view that informs everything that I do, from my vocation to just existing in the world and making sense of that existence. And I think those are the major things I would love your listeners to know about me, I educate people. I myself become educated within the Animate world and the web of life. And I make art things and I talk about art things and advocate for art things. And I live in this beautiful place that is the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I was born here I was raised here I have continued to work here on the unseeded lands of the Washoe and new peoples. So that’s me, that’s a little bit about me.

Kelsey Mech  08:33

Oh my goodness, I just want to like give you snaps over here. That was such a beautiful intro and I love that you shared so much such a holistic view of who you are as a person, I think, you know, we’ll get into this conversation as we sort of explore what education is designed for. But I think so many of us default to like, This is who I am as and this is what I do for work. And that’s it and I love that you’re like No, I’m a cat mom, and I’m an artist and I tend this beautiful home like so beautiful. Such a such a great modeling of like, expansive introductions. Thank you. Okay, so we’re going to just dive, you know, right in this conversation, straight to the deep end about what we need to unravel, explore, rethink be critical of, as you said, when it comes to education. And I know, you sort of highlighted some specific aspects of this that you’re excited to touch on in this podcast that I want to get us to those places. But I’m curious if you could just begin with sort of giving us like a bird’s eye view of like, what’s what do we need to be critical of when it comes to the current education system? Context? Is that your I know based in the US for this and feel free to speak from that lens or any other experience you have?

Reena Spansail  09:50

For sure. Thank you so much. I think it is important to start with a baseline because of something like this especially like how political oven issue education is, I mean, what’s not a political issue at this point. But you know, when people are talking about kids, right, and when people are talking about their kids are talking about, you know, the future of society, TM, which students are often viewed as all of that gets really charged really quickly, right. So I would say that, that top of my list in terms of unraveling things having to do with education is first getting really clear on the difference between education and schooling. And for me, education is the process of learning things, and you do not need a public space, like, you know, a public school, to engage in education. I think that human beings engage in education like daily, when we interact with each other when we interact with the like larger systems in our worlds when we pick up a new hobby when we meet a new person, right. So I feel that the umbrella term education applies to all those things, it applies to learning in the home outside of the home, privately publicly, that’s education. But schooling is the process of educating meaning, you know, attempting, learning and teaching within a publicly funded or privately funded structure. That is known as a school system. Right. And so I think it’s important to delineate between schooling and education, even though we’re having this talk about, you know, unraveling education at large, because I think sometimes those two terms get used interchangeably, when, in fact, I am more hypercritical of schooling, and the institutions involved in schooling, than education in general. And I think that a lot of times, politicians and people who seek positions of power in a schooling context, we’ll often use this education versus schooling these this these semantics to their advantage, like I am for education, I am an educator, I am invested in education, right. And like, that’s wonderful, obviously, you want to hear those things. But if that person is applying for, say, a local school board of some kind, or even like that principal chips, say, at a school, you should understand, like, if you’re in the process of unraveling, which we all are, of course, right? That’s why we’re here. That’s why we’re talking. If you’re thinking of unraveling your relationship with schooling, you should be clear about what way in what ways you have been in relationship with schooling, versus relationship with education, right. So to use an example of this in my own life, and to connect it with another aspect of sort of what is there to unravel here. I feel that I received a really wonderful education, even though my schooling environment was very unusual. I was in a public school, my mom taught there she herself as an educator. And it was a tiny school, it’s like 100, children, kindergarten through eighth grade. The total number was 100 students. And so it was a very small place. And it was a very small community, rural community. And I felt that I received a really good education in that school. Because the educators who knew me and who were my teachers, were able to give me Individualized Education attention, meaning they could ask me about my interests, they could ask me specific, tailored questions, follow up questions about their lessons to me. And this was important, because in my community, there was like, people that were like myself, like, privileged and got a lot of support at home. And then there were people who didn’t get a lot of support at home, didn’t have a lot of like books, to read art supplies to play with, things like that. And so it was important that the teachers in this space both realized that I needed support to kind of grow my learning from the baseline that I had, and that other people in the class needed the opposite, right, and that they needed support to bring them up to a level where they could, you know, talk about the types of things and write about the types of things and create the types of things that the standards that the, you know, that was the curriculum of the moment. And so I mentioned that because I feel that that’s another big thing that educators, education and schooling need. To unravel, and that’s this idea of the individual learner and their needs being at odds with the larger systems in play. You know, like, and that is truly in order for an educator, say, I don’t know, a first grade teacher, to be able to really teach every person in their classroom how to read, they need to be able to have enough one on one time, and support for that time to continue to exist, to be able to connect with that student be like, Oh, I see why you’re not able to read this particular passage. It’s because you’re getting caught on this specific phonetics something or another, versus somebody else that you know, students sitting next to them per se, who might also be struggling with this same passage that they’re trying to read in class, but it’s for an entirely different reason. And if that educator doesn’t have the time and the space, and this systemic support, to have conversations and to have training and tools to be able to distinguish between the why, why the student isn’t getting it, quote, unquote, then it becomes a game of whack a mole of well, maybe this will work for the greatest number of students in my class, maybe this will, maybe this will. And so I would say that a large thing that we need to unravel is like the role of the individual, the role of the class, the role of the teacher and the training they receive, and then the role of the larger school, or educating community, because these things still apply whether your home schools, you know, to be able to meet those individual learning needs. So I would say that’s another really big thing that we need to unravel here, as, like all of the, you know, shareholders as it were, that have educational systems is like, okay, how can we build a school day? How can we build a classroom size? How can we build training mechanisms, that enables those sorts of conversations between pupils and students alike, between pupils and one another, and between students and teachers, and between teachers and other teachers, between teachers and parents, all of the people have to be able to have these individualized kinds of conversations, because of learning, while done collectively, is such an individual thing, because it comes down to your brain and how your brain Yes, right. So I would say those are the my big top two are unraveling.

Kelsey Mech  17:42

Amazing. And I appreciate that sort of big picture overview. Really important to clarify language use and what we mean when we say education versus schooling. And I appreciate having that differentiate differentiated for me as well, just in terms of how I’m approaching the language in this in this episode. And so I think what we’re talking about here, if I’m understanding correctly, is really being critical of our current school system structure that’s in place.

Reena Spansail  18:09

And think so. Because those are the things that can be more easily changed. Right. You know, and obviously, that’s, you know, how to change it as like how legislation works, obviously, varies by place, obviously, varies by a whole bunch of things. And it’s not like it’s actually that easy. But it is a place where changes can be made that affect large numbers of people versus education. Since we’re in that semantic dis, you know, distinguishing those semantic differences right now. Education is something that happens consistently all the time. Yeah, yeah. And schooling should be able to support an individual’s ongoing life’s education. Right? Schooling shouldn’t be the thing that tells a person Oh, well, education sucks. I might as well not be learning anything if this is what learning looks like,

Kelsey Mech  19:11

right? Yeah. So okay, I want to get to the like, how do we shift this? Where do we need to go piece but not quite yet? Because first, I want to rewind a little bit. And I’m curious if you can share a bit about how we got here to this current moment in schooling, and anything, you know, that feels relevant regarding sort of the history of schooling. I know that’s another big question. I’m like, Hey, can you tell me everything you know? 45 minutes.

Reena Spansail  19:46

Great. Let’s go. So, um, some things that I know about how we got to this point. One is that education schooling in a systemic way way, was squarely in the didn’t like domestic sphere for a very long time and summit by domestic sphere, I mean the home, but I also mean like systems of apprenticeship. And like, you know, after doing things, you know, with your family, if you were, you know, in a specific kind of social class was often a big factor here too, right still is, you would, you know, go out and seek an apprenticeship if you were a male, but if you weren’t, then often your education. And even schooling was limited to what kinds of books or materials your family might be able to get you. That’s assuming that your family had the ability to get you those things because they themselves could read. Right? Yeah. So prior to kind of the Industrial Revolution in and I’m speaking, like my experience, and my historical understanding is basically like Europe in the Americas. So that’s just for listeners, that’s the context, and I’m talking through here. But basically, um, there was this dude, who, as industrialization was developing, was like, you know, we should really start some schooling like, he was in the USA, and he’s like, we need to really make sure that, you know, we’re preparing the citizens of tomorrow. And from his perspective, he was like, Well, really, what’s really important is that they be able to read so that they can read the Bible. So he was sort of a an evangelist, and this education activist guy at the time. And so he started these schools. And he wrote this heroic whole curricular program that was meant to take people in rural sort of farming communities, which are all over the places it was kind of the norm at the time, right? And teach them the reading the writing the arithmetic, the three R’s, right? To be able to continue this, like cultural zeitgeist of religious religiosity, and Christendom. So this guy is John something another, I don’t bother to remember his name, I can get it back. I can send it to you if you’d like for the show notes, though. Um, anyway, this guy is like the founder of American education. And he did it explicitly as a religious exercise. And so the first schoolbooks the first textbooks that were put through printers, here in the States, at least, were all like, based on psalms and hymns and Bible stories. So the first national attempt at any sort of schooling structure was instigated by this guy, and was explicitly Christian in nature. And it went that way for a while. The next major thing that happened was that the reading the writing and arithmetic are not quite enough for the post industrial workforce. And so what started happening is that there were because you know, this is shifting away from the agrarian model of okay, we go to school, when we don’t have to plant we go to school when there’s not a harvest season. But in urban areas, and as that kind of way of life starts shifting away towards a more like factory based labor market, labor force. Schooling also was required to sort of shift by the powers that be that said, Okay, we need laborers that know how to, like operate this heavy machinery that know how to do this sort of stuff. So the sort of classical education that this guy like modeled his stuff, after kind of like, fell a little bit more by the wayside, in that it was only going to be offered to people of needs, and sort of public schools, like the schools that were established in these agrarian communities like these sorts of one room schoolhouse type things became more of a recruiting grounds for these various companies. And oftentimes, there would be a whole stretches of the country where people aren’t going to school because the the company came recruited from the school. And then there was Nobody left. And or rather, the people that were left were girls. And they were kind of like, oh, well, we’re not going to run a school just for girls go back home. Great, right? So this kind of goes on for a while in this kind of like pockmarked in different places, is schooling for industry or is schooling for the church is schooling for industry or is schooling for the church. And then if we just fast forward for the sake of time, to the Reagan administration, in the in the US, there was this really significant piece of, of legislation that went through that said that the kinds of programs that would be offered in public schools should no longer be determined by the parents of the community and the like lawmakers of the community exclusively, but rather, the business interests of that community should have a say that should have the largest say, in what was being taught in schools. So I mentioned this, because if we’re talking about this lineage of like, are we being schooled for industrial labor? Are we being schooled in a way where we can take our labor anywhere, that sort of dynamics that was kind of constantly shifting and changing? When Reagan and that administration signed this bill into law, what happened here in the states is that business owners and industry got to say, what classes were being taught and what classes weren’t. And so what this meant is that drafting programs, auto shop programs, programs that people used to be able to go through and get some sort of, you know, skill that you could make a living with, like, you know, shop, like mechanics of some kind, those were taking, those were taken out of public schools. And instead, these like industrial academies, started being born, where the companies and the industries, like sheet metal, for example, ran the training program for those labor markets, and what that meant is that public education had to once again, kind of this pendulum swing, had to go back to kind of being okay, well, what does it mean to have a quote unquote, well rounded school experience, if we could no longer teach these specific labor skills, because these specific labor skills have been taken out of the schools. And the skills are being basically offered as a you know, as a for profit business model, right? Like it used to be able to get shop training in school, at your free public education. Now, if you want shop training, you need to pay the shop that’s going to train you. Right. And so this is what the state of American schooling is right now, where there’s this big, big push and pull between these same players that kind of began, which is the church. And I mean that in like, a large sets, right, because obviously, there’s lots of different religious organizations and lots of different like specific types of schooling available through those various church organizations. But there’s also public pressure on you know, certain books not being available in public space for religious reasons, certain subjects not being taught for religious reasons. So there’s still that major player in public education, then there’s the business, players and industry. And they have a lot of say, over what kinds of curricular programs are purchased, over what kinds of things the school board adopts over hiring of school board, people, hiring of superintendents to business and and and when I say business, I don’t mean like the cute little mom and pop ice cream shop. I mean, like if you live in an area that has a mine, that mine is totally has people who are assigned to the quote unquote, schooling problem, like how are we affecting the schools in this area to produce laborers that we need for this industry? Right. And then of course, there’s the students themselves and the parents themselves, and they are also affecting what happens in schooling. I think it varies a lot by region, what happens there? And to add one more piece of this history that I haven’t mentioned yet is the idea that schooling is a place of indoctrination, for many, many things. And that idea of schooling as a place of indoctrination was squarely codified under the Residential Schools Act in here in this country, and I know that there was also residential schools in Canada. And there were also residential schools of a different sort in Europe. And those residential schools sought to develop curricula, and to develop, like, you know, ways of living because these were live in schools, right, that’s what they were called residential schools that were meant to culturally indoctrinate and culturally condition, a certain group of people to act behave, be prepared for the labor market, in a certain way. And this was absolutely devastating, of course, to all the people, indigenous people, First Nations, people who were put through these programs, and unfortunately, there are still people and entities and organizations that very much see the school community as an opportunity as a place as a captive audience for indoctrination, right, for example, here in this country, it is assumed, and in some places, it is really, like, emphasized and has consequences if you don’t do it. And in other places, there aren’t that you’re going to say the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag in the morning. Right. And so saying the Pledge of Allegiance in the morning is not actually a law on the books. There’s not actually like, there’s been several legal challenges from various places and various states as to whether or not this has to be a thing. And it’s basically really come down that okay, well, the school can ask you to do it, but they can’t force you to do it. Right. Right. This has kind of been decided as a national thing. And yet, despite that legal definition, it is still something that is done in every single school I have ever visited I have ever attended I’ve ever been to. And that is like kind of a base level example of the understanding that larger school systems administrators understand that they have a captive audience. And they have a young impressionable audience, and that there are systems that would behoove them to have in place to kind of, you know, subconsciously speak to those students in their development. Yeah. Yeah. So I think to kind of summarize my not linear historical overview of schooling, um, schooling has and school in general, has been a contentious place, from the very beginning. And from the very beginning, it was like the type of education that you could get from a school vary widely by where you lived and vary wildly by how much money you made, even when the public education system in this country in the US was founded, even when it was like codified into law. And you know, that Department of Education was founded and all of that which came way later than I initially thought, you know, this came at the very end of the 19th century, all of this was codified. But all of the major players, if you will, that first had a stake in that game, still have a stake in that game, and are still playing that game. And so the history of schooling is important to understand, at least in a cursory way as that it’s not different from it’s not separate from the ways that various communities have been under pressure from you know, the larger systems that exist within the state structure.

Kelsey Mech  34:28

Thank you for sharing all that. Reena. It’s so interesting. And there’s I mean, so much there to explore. I think the lens that I’ve always been the most sort of, I guess, introduced to this whole concept and the idea of like indoctrination and even like, the ongoing colonization that exists within school systems is about like this focus within the school system on creating good workers. And I’m curious, you know, if you can speak to sort of your own experience, how you’ve seen it show up in in your own work or Just more conceptually of like, how capitalism in particular uses our school systems to create a workforce of like passive people.

Reena Spansail  35:12

Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Who? Well, okay, so some some examples. Some examples are seatbelt. Seatbelt, folks, because that’s a lot. But to keep it focused, I think a big way is great. Marks, right? ABCDE, F, satisfactory, unsatisfactory. I think that those are totally a like, Baby’s first work evaluation. Right now. Um, because they, they kind of separate students who care about extrinsic motivation. versus students who don’t, right, and it is helpful for the larger systems at play, to know, okay, who’s externally motivated, who’s not right, because of course, then they can play with those motivations. So there’s actually like, a lot of attempted changes around grading and around test scores, because that’s another, you know, way of measuring productivity, right, that is directly in schooling. And that, you know, I have seen in jobs, you know, anything from counting how many hours you work as being like an hourly wage employee, to, you know, if you’re a salaried person working in a corporate environment, and you’re waiting for your quarterly review, right? That is the same thing, essentially, as waiting for your report card to come out when you’re a little kid. Right? So those sorts of number based systems like, oh, how do you measure up to the rest of your class? How do you measure up to the rest of your age group, um, those sorts of numerical data systems, I think, are really meant to start you, as an individual thinking of the things you do in an education environment, or a learning environment, or even just like an institutional environment, because school is an institution, right? Being like, every move every assignment, every activity has a number associated with it. And that number can be good, or that number can be bad. There’s like moral qualities that are assigned to these numbers assigned to percentiles assigned to percentages assigned to the letters ABCDE. F, right. So I think that grades are a big deal. And there are some movements towards standards based screening right now. And there’s some movements against standardized tests, and there are some colleges and universities that are no longer looking at those types of scores and are instead of looking at other sorts of measures of quote, unquote, achievement, but that also begs the, the question of the the whole achievements, the myth of achievement, right? In that there are certain, you know, achievements, quote, unquote, that you can, quote unquote, accomplish in school, that gives you a competitive edge. Like, I can’t tell you how many seniors juniors, I’ve heard, talk about doing a certain thing, whether it be you know, an extracurricular activity or a certain class, or like, Oh, I’m doing this because I hear it looks good on a resume. Yeah. I’m not doing this because this is fun. I’m not doing this because it’s a chance to hang out with my friends. No, I’m doing this because an adult told me that this will help me get a job that maybe won’t suck. Right? Yeah. So I would say that another major element besides grading is the way that teachers and administrators are trained to talk to students that are trying to talk to families, like your student is under performing. In this class, we’re gonna need to put a one on one tutor with them. Because you know, this class is really important for this person’s future. Like if they don’t pass this class, well, I don’t know what their future is going to be like lots of like work. We’re trained to try to motivate students and families right? Through these sorts of you are not at the level that is expected. This is the level that is expected. Here’s where you’re at. Oh, and here’s all of the supports that we’re going to give you to get either, there’s never a question of do I want to get there? Do I really need to get there it? Is it nourishing for me to what isn’t there anyway, the target keeps moving. I have very, very rarely been in a official school conversation that starts out with Hey, what do you want? Like we’re not like the choices given to students are often sort of false choices. And they’re not, there’s often not systems in place to help young people develop choice making skills, right? There instead, it’s more like, oh, trust me, I’ve got your best interest at heart. I know that system, I want to get you through those hoops. And I’m not trying to say to my colleagues who say those things, that they’re bad and wrong, I’m not trying to have a big moral judgment here. Because within the context of the schooling system, I mean, yeah, those things do look better on resumes, to use that previous example, right. And when we’re talking about the way that capitalism is entwined into schooling, we’re talking about the way that productivity and the seeking of this, you know, prime amounts, and reward for productivity, all have those sorts of words, those key words, and those sorts of like, carrot and stick maneuvers are codified in schooling systems that I have been a part of, and are encouraged. Because of the quote, unquote, achievement gap, right? Yeah.

Kelsey Mech  41:53

Yeah, I just had like, full body shivers multiple times talking through all that, because it’s just, it’s so real. And I mean, I can resonate with like, growing up in those experiences, and, and like, clearly learning all of those things around like, extrinsic motivation, and all of that, and just becoming like, a really good worker, and a really good, motivated little, you know, good, good girl, good students. So

Reena Spansail  42:21

yeah, I was there with you, Kelsey, is right there with you.

Kelsey Mech  42:24

So, I know, you mentioned earlier when you’re talking about the history, like, sort of the connection to residential schools, and you’ve talked a lot about the way that the overarching systems of capitalism and colonization and all of these sort of the the layers of indoctrination that still exist within a school system, so I’m curious, like, what would it mean? What would it look like, in your view, to start to decolonize, our education systems?

Reena Spansail  42:51

These are the questions I live for. Thank you, Kelty. So I’m, in my mind, from my limited perspective, what it would look like to start to decolonize these systems because I’ve been thinking a lot about systems as a word lately. And thinking about how I had started in my, in my own sort of unraveling journey, I had started applying moral weight to the word system that just any sort of system was bad. I was like, okay, hold up here. A system describes the way that things interrelate and interconnect to form a larger hole, so that we don’t need to go making moral judgments here about a system existing, a system existing that is actively damaging to components. Well, that we can start to get into, okay, how are we gonna? Are we gonna decolonize that hard and unravel that how to do those sorts of things. So I just wanted to put out there that I think that structure is important in an educational setting. Because what I know about how the brain human brain tends to learn information is that it requires repetition. It requires multiple entry points into the same sort of larger concept. And those sorts of mechanisms could really benefit from some structures in place, right. So when I think about how to start getting from where we’re at, to where I dream of being, I think one of the things that is necessary is smaller class sizes. More and hire paid support staff, and variable times and locations for at educational activities to take place in. And what I mean by that is and how I was informed by these things is I’m a member of my union, my teachers union. And our big push right now is, as our state enters its legislative session is it’s called time for 20. And what that refers to is a 20% increase in certified staff salary, that means that starting teachers would no longer need to be under the poverty line with their starting salary, right. 20% increase, it would also retain a lot more educators, which we are hemorrhaging at the moment. For, I’m sure, obvious reasons, right? So, so an increase in the support of people kind of running the show, in terms the nuts and bolts level, right. And the $20 minimum wage for all support staff, that’s bus drivers, that’s cafeteria workers. That’s personal aides, that’s office staff. Oftentimes, these folks have chosen to stay in schools, even though they have they have just abysmal wages, because they deeply and truly care about what’s going on in the school. And we should absolutely reward the folks who want to be in a schooling environment with livable wages. So I think absolutely hands down, the first thing that has to happen is some livable wages. And then the other 20% are the other 20. In this time for 20. That my union is pushing in my specific state is a 20 person, class size cap. Because I have been in classrooms and I’ve taught in classrooms where the number of students in a given given class and this is all high school, right? That’s my specialty. That’s I don’t do stuff with little, little ones, although I love them. And I have seen really bad class size issues with them, too. I’ve been in classes of 40 people, 36 people, when I was doing this student teaching with my art teacher. Likewise, in my student teaching role, we had one class that was 55 students, oh my gosh, and Yonkers. It’s bonkers. And to go back a little ways, in this conversation we’ve had when I talked about how it feels crucial to have those, the time and the space and the support for those one on one conversations between peers, and between a teacher and students. There was no way not physically, in the hour that we had, that I could talk to half of those students, let alone all of them. And so when I when we think about systems, and when we think about changing those systems, I think that schooling is very similar to lots of other systems that I’m interested in radically changing and seeing shifts in. And that’s that you must compensate people for their time in a way that allows them to come back the next day, rested, fed, and with enough energetic reserves, to engage again. And so what I see in my school environment, and in the larger school environments that I’m associated with, is a lot of despair. And a lot of what’s the crossing point. And a lot of this is impossible. No learning can happen under these conditions. And it’s not true learning is happening, amazingly, because humans are amazing. And individuals are incredible. And yes, learning is happening is learning optimally happening. is learning being supported. And it’s happening. is learning consistently happening. No, right. So I feel that, you know, with the obvious bias of being part of this organization, I feel that those sorts of things have livable wages for educators, livable, more than livable wages for support staff, way more, and the ability to hire way more teachers and way more support staff because those bench lines are a benchmark, excuse me are in place means that when you get you know, if you also get to have just 20 people in your class, wow, that would change everything because those conversations, those individual learning moments would be held and supported by this network of care. And I think that that’s the big thing that has to change here is that I hear my students say all the time, oh, they don’t care about me. Oh, that teacher doesn’t care about me. Oh, that principal doesn’t care about Maybe they don’t care. And oftentimes, it’s not that those adults don’t care because every, every single child needs more than just their parents as adults, deeply caring about them. Yeah. Right, like really deeply invested in terms of individual and their learning, and their interests, and their struggles and all of that, right. And so it makes sense that what I hear from students is all they don’t care, they don’t care. Right? When it’s more that those adults don’t have the resources, emotional resources, to be able to demonstrate to you sensitive little being, that they do care. Yeah. You know, so I feel that, that, like, if every single school in this country made that as a baseline, I think you would see radical shifts, and positive changes immediately. And that doesn’t even touch on issues of like, you know, behavioral management in schools, or suspensions, or racial profiling, all of those things, right. Like all of those things got to be addressed as well. curricula development, textbook, adoption, all those things are other elements here that, you know, I could go on for weeks about the specifics of how I love those things to be different. But if the base levels of care, as demonstrated by how many people are in a room, and how the adults that are facilitating the learning in a schooling, situation, are able to care for their own selves and their families with financial support, it would change everything, it would absolutely change everything.

Kelsey Mech  51:51

Yeah, it’s so interesting. How to think about that. I mean, I don’t know as much as I would like and realizing and listening to you talk about this about, like, the specific context here in Canada, and I know teachers are paid teachers and support staff are paid much better here, I think, in general, than in the States. But there’s still I mean, that is an I’m sure that shifts a lot. We also have class size issues here, of course, although I don’t think White is bad. But yeah, it’s just interesting to think about, like, I’m so curious now hearing you talk about, like, what those differences are, and how that how that already shows up in differences in our schooling systems and how people are supported. And also then, where those things already exist in certain places here then, yeah, what what’s next and what’s next, because I mean, even with those things in place, I know so many teachers here who are still struggling and still burning out and all of these things, so but we got to start somewhere. And I guess that’s what I’m wondering in our last kind of few minutes here is like, if someone is listening to this, and they’re, I mean, maybe a parent or even just someone without kids, but who’s like, deeply interested in this recognizes and really resonates with everything you’re sharing, like, where do where do we begin is average people, like what can we do to start opening up these conversations or creating these shifts that we so desperately need in these within the school systems?

Reena Spansail  53:13

Ah, well, thank you. To you, Kelsey. And to you, dear listener, who was like, I want to do something. Um, one I would identify the school aged kiddos and your life, maybe they’re a little cousins, maybe their friends, kids, maybe they’re your own kids. And set aside some time, have some snacks, have some nice little beverages available? Some, you know, some sort of nice, you know, physically body safe environment to ask that kid about where experience of schooling. And this is different than how did school go today, honey, this is like, Hey, um, how, really, how many students in your room are on Tik Tok at any given moment in your classes? How many know whatever happened with that friend of yours that I don’t hear about anymore? And, you know, I’m not saying this because I assume, don’t assume that these things aren’t already happening. But as a please keep going with that. Because education and schooling is supposed to exist to share our cultural knowledge and inheritance with young ones and for young ones to share with each other. Right. And so I think the best place to start would be talk to the kids in your life. And keep talking, keep asking keep following up. Because maybe the first time you broach this topic, it’s gonna be like, Whoa, hear it don’t ask me about that. Right. So like keep trying keep finding different ways of asking the same sorts of questions, just to demonstrate that you care about every aspect of what’s going on there, you know. So that’s one thing. Second thing is, um, talk with no emailed tweet, however you want to do it, your lawmakers, because they and by lawmakers, I mean not only your local lawmakers in your town and your principality in your you know, wherever you’re at, but also, whatever school board exists, like, get vocal, and start asking the same sorts of questions that you’re asking your kiddo about their schooling experience, start asking the people who make decisions about schooling, you know, I think that a lot of things happen behind closed doors, and a lot of things happen, even in open doors. Because people are afraid that they might sound stupid, or they might not like, be able to ask the question, right. But you could start with something as simple as hey, what are you doing to improve schools? In your term? Something as simple as that puts the onus on that lawmaker to a define what improving schools means to them be know that, you know, there’s an issue here, right, we’re holding them accountable and see, it forces them to give you specifics. And if they don’t give you specifics, you can say, hey, thanks for that. But I was really seeking some specifics here. What legislative actions are you considering taking? Right? So if you’re feeling bold, and you’re feeling resourced, I encourage you to do that. And then another thing that I encourage you to do is with those kids in your life, or with your own inner kid, do some learning outside of school life, you know, get together with a friend that knows how to do something that you’ve always wanted to learn how to do but have never like been given the opportunity. I’m sure you could sign up for an online course. But what if you instead just tried to figure it out by process of trial and error? Or what if you, you know, looked at a model of something and tried to tinker your way to that model. And what I mean by all of that, is reengaged, the part of you that I feel as an every single person that loves to learn things, your mind is incredible. Your intelligence is vast, your ability to find and create and rearrange patterns, is it just boggles. It just boggles me, and I absolutely believe that everybody has that ability. And it would be such a gift for you to connect with that element of yourself. Because from that place of connection, I feel that the actionable steps towards making that kind of learning moment happen for other people. For young people, I feel that once you’re connected with that in yourself, the road forward becomes more obvious for your individual circumstances. Because if you don’t have that connection with the own with your own part of yourself that loves to learn. It’s easy to just stick to dogma. And we don’t need dogma in education anymore. We don’t need unschooling anymore. We need that spark of learning passion. And the you know, adult fully formed prefrontal cortex judgment, to be able to transfer that passion into systems that enable young people to access that passion and bring it forth to create new ways of being so like just hang out with your self that likes to learn things a little bit. reacquaint yourself with that person? I bet you they had really good ideas for what you could do next.

Kelsey Mech  59:17

Whoa, preach. Yes. I love that. I think so much of this is about Yeah, even just practicing in our own lives, how this could look differently and, and re engaging with different systems of learning than we’re taught in school. I love that. Thank you so much, Reena, for sharing all of this. I have learned so much. And I know we only barely scratched the surface and could talk about this for hours. So appreciate everything you have shared. And just thank you. Yeah, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast.

Reena Spansail  59:50

Kelsey, it was truly a joy and I learned things in this process myself. So thank you, thank you and thank you listeners for being with us as well and Being willing to engage in this messy, big knotted up thing that is education

Kelsey Mech  1:00:12

Hey, oh, as always, thank you so much for listening. I’m always just so thrilled that you’re here. Oh my gosh, am I pulling out the southern accent? Okay, shit. I actually didn’t realize I was doing that. You see I’m in this little play here on Saltspring Island, so called Saltspring Island, and I play someone from Mississippi in 1974. So I’ve been practicing my southern accent a lot and sometimes it just slips out so I’m super embarrassed that happened but I’m gonna keep it in here because this is real life y’all. Okay, love you. Thank you. You know what to do?