New Questions for an Old Problem in Indian Education
In education, blame follows close on the heels of trouble. When people find out we are Indian educators, we are routinely asked to list how public schools are failing our students. We encourage the curious to look up the 1928 Meriam Report, the 1969 Kennedy Report, Alonzo Spang’s “Eight Problems In Indian Education,” and their individual district’s report card on Native American student achievement and graduation rates. Lay them out on the dinner table and soak in the realization that we have the same hundred year old problems. Our challenges are old—instead let’s start asking why they persist.
For better or worse, the United States government is consistent in its dealings with Indian Country. While the European-style education continues, some important accommodations have been made by the federal government, like Title VII and the Johnson-O’Malley Act. What has changed dramatically over the last 100 years, however, is tribal governance and economic development. Isn’t it time we ask, “How responsible are we?” Why, given all of our advancements, do we still have the largest achievement gap of any minority? Why haven’t we as a people done better by our children?
What if the greatest educational challenge facing our students is our own apathy, anxiety, victimhood, and historical trauma? Teaching our students effectively should be one of the easiest things for us to accomplish. We have been teaching our children as communities for thousands of years and with that educational style we have built some of the most complex societies in the world. Unfortunately, educational trauma seems generational in Indian Country. If a parent was over-looked, under-educated, and pushed out of school he or she will pass those negative values on to his or her children. How many of us know someone who has told a child, “I have an 8th grade education and I’m fine?”
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