Learning (early) about settler colonialism: Mark Robert Sinke, Learning to Settle: Young Students Learning Canadian and Indigenous Histories in the Figured Worlds of Social Studies Classrooms, PhD Dissertation, University of Toronto, 2020


Abstract: This research study is an investigation into how children in public elementary schools are educated through social studies curricula into ways of understanding themselves and their relationships to the nation-state, the land, and people with whom they share the land. The questions that have driven this research are these: 1) How do young students construct and negotiate the figured worlds of a social studies classroom where they engage in inquiry-based learning about settler colonialism? 2) What do students connect with, and what are they doing with the stories they hear about Indigenous and Canadian history in public school classrooms? 3) How do students in public school classrooms take up or reject settler colonialism in their
learning about history? Examining these questions through the theoretical frame of figured worlds and employing a post-structural ethnographic methodology, the author relies on the fields of curriculum studies and settler colonial studies to ground this study into the experiences of young students in public schools. The frame of figured worlds allows the author to examine the ways that students talk about and enact identities-in-practice as they learn stories about Canadian and Indigenous histories. This thesis sheds light on the specific ways students configure, negotiate, and enact their own subjectivities as they learn about the settlement and growth of Canada on the Indigenous territory it now occupies. Data for this study were gathered through research groups, interviews, and classroom observations at two elementary schools in Hamilton, Ontario. Analysis and discussion of these data reveal the complex ways students both take up and\or reject discourses and narratives about settler colonialism, Indigenous resurgence, and reconciliation. The stories and experiences of students in this research reveal ways that education works to maintain settler structures of inequality and elimination through the teaching of social studies. This work also points to ways this can be challenged, and how counter-narratives and discourses are being taken up by students as they navigate their identities-in-practice in response to what they learn, who they learn it with, and the multiple voices that they listen to for guidance.

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