Monday, May 11, 2015

A blind spot

Today Elli and I went on a class trip to see Black Creek Pioneer Village.  It is a historic site with a large number of original and historic but relocated buildings where kids can learn about the 1810-1860 era in this part of Canada.  The tour guides were fairly entertaining and the kids enjoyed themselves a lot but they clearly had some huge blind spots that I wish they would try to address.

The first thing I took issue with was the repeated statement that the reason the white farmers were here at all was cheap land.  That is certainly true but clearly it should be stated why exactly that land was so cheap:  Because the natives had been nearly wiped out by plague, war, and forced resettlement.  Noting that there was a ton of land and not explaining why is a huge failure on the part of educators.  Whitewashing the past so people can feel less guilty about the abuses long ago only makes it easier to accept the abuses of natives going on even now.

Our guide also made a point several times about how in the past people had strange and terrible ideas about gender roles and danced around the idea of the rampant sexism at the time.  He tried to make it clear that things were not good back then without *directly* criticizing the repression and bigotry that was the norm.  While saying "women were considered the property of their fathers or their husbands" isn't going to make the kids smile it will teach them a thing or two.  Sadly the guide really put his foot in it when he followed up his statements about enforced gender roles with this gem:

"Let's try on some clothes just like they wore back then!  Don't worry, I won't make the boys put on a dress!  Ha ha ha."

Really dude?  Talk about how bad those old timey folks were with their sexism and then make it clear that it is so shameful for a boy to touch girl things that you wouldn't dare expose them to that?  It just made me twitch to see the hypocrisy unfold before me.

So Black Creek is pretty great if you want kids to learn about ancient printing presses or horses or scythes.  If you are looking to have them learn about more important things though, things that might actually affect their lives now, or which will grant them greater perspective on the world around them.... not so much.

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