Canadian curriculum, literacy and life writing as metissage

In our multicultural, multi-lingual society, a growing number of educators are using life writing to build bridges of understanding between increasingly diverse populations.

“Life writing is articulating your own and others’ lived experiences, ideas, values, and feelings,” explains Dr. Erika Hasebe-Ludt, University of Lethbridge Faculty of Education. Students who practice it gain a deeper sense of identity. Sharing their stories imparts historical and cultural knowledge, and it has the potential to raise empathy in others.

Dr. Erika Hasebe-Ludt at work with literacy cohort graduate students Joanne Polec and Daniel Buchanan.

The stories of individuals often connect with and add a visceral component to larger historical, political, and economic narratives. According to Hasebe-Ludt, this creates a living, organic curriculum that is not abstract or detached. “Life writing can be applied in all subjects,” she says, “and is adaptable to all ages.”

Hasebe-Ludt, who for more than a decade has researched this literacy genre and curriculum area with Drs. Cynthia Chambers (U of L), Carl Leggo (UBC), along with colleagues from a life-writing collective across Canada, points out that life writing is more than printed text. It is an arts-based inquiry that incorporates performance, oral storytelling, artifacts, filmmaking, and more. The resulting métissage, or mixed composition of stories, respects a culture’s traditional literacies including vernacular modes. It also  opens up new and multiple literacies to writers and readers within that culture or community.

Hasebe-Ludt was recently appointed interim editor of the Canadian Journal of Education. She is also co-president of the Canadian Association of Curriculum Studies (CACS). Her publications include A Heart of Wisdom: Life Writing as Empathetic Inquiry, Life Writing and Literary Métissage as an Ethos of Our Times, and Contemplating Curriculum: Genealogies/Times/Places, co-edited and authored with fellow researchers. These collections give teachers and other educators ideas for implementing life writing in their classrooms.

“My hope is for this form of inquiry to be an integral part of the curriculum, enabling all students to construct their identities and develop their skills, refine their voices as readers and writers, and contribute to a knowledge-based, literate and just society,” says Hasebe-Ludt.

In 2014 Dr. Erika Hasebe-Ludt received the Ted T. Aoki Award for Distinguished Service in Canadian Curriculum Studies. The eminent curriculum scholar, after whom the award was named, had been a longtime mentor until his passing in 2012.