Native Students Need Native Approaches to Curriculum
Rigorous multicultural curriculum is a must for any effective classroom. Yet, if it’s so effective, why has our Native American achievement gap remained nearly unchanged for a hundred years? Native students aren’t struggling entirely because of the curricula; they are struggling because of the pedagogy. European-style education is still bent on assimilating our Native learning styles to that of a dominant culture. Our poor statistics are evidence that we are still fighting oppression in the education system. Multicultural curriculum is necessary but it only modifies the means by which our Native students are assimilated.
Take for example a science curriculum combining watershed study and Native American ties with salmon. A curriculum makes generalizations even when written with excellent intent. This example assumes all Natives share a mystical connection with nature. Traditionally, we are connected, but not in the over-represented manner in which it is often portrayed. It assumes all Natives have land to be connected with—many do not. Statistically 75 percent of Natives are non-reservation and may have little contact with their natural or cultural environment. Even the term, “urban Indian” implies disconnectedness.
Curriculum assumes all Natives are equally engaged from learning about other tribes. Native experience includes many commonalities; however, Native peoples are often vastly different. A Seneca learning about the Hopi may be just as engaged as if she were learning about the Celts. Expecting Native students to be engaged is implicitly saying, “Hey you should like this, you’re all the same.”
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