Native Students Need Native Approaches to Curriculum
Curriculum makes a false assumption that all Natives know a great deal about their culture. Thanks to genocide, boarding schools, termination, and relocation even tribal school students often have extremely low levels of cultural knowledge. Students who do have higher levels of cultural knowledge have higher legitimacy expectations. Many Native people, especially students, won’t engage unless they feel the person discussing their particular culture has a legitimate right to do so. A workshop or webinar doesn’t make legitimate cultural delegates. Being an active participant in a Native community or being understanding and sympathetic to the challenges of Native life builds legitimacy.
A curriculum is approachable because it is easily accessible to non-Natives. A little time searching the web can provide historically accurate and culturally relevant information for curriculum design. Understanding how Natives learn requires either being Native or the professional and personal commitment to the culture. Pedagogy is difficult to address because it can imply culpability and often requires an honest reflection on one’s cultural bias. Most teachers are willing to print a multicultural curriculum from the Internet but lack time, commitment, ability, or resources to teach multiculturally.
Native students need Native approaches in pedagogy. Multicultural curriculum fails to budge education statistics for Native youth under a European-style education system. Our cultural struggle survives in the way we learn. Our low scores are testaments to our defiance against assimilation. If teachers want to create a truly transformative learning experience, teach us culturally and all else will follow. Let us move forward improving how we teach culture but let us never lose our commitment to teaching culturally.
Jerad Koepp and Jason Medina are certified teachers in Washington State. Medina is a career and technical education teacher and Koepp is a middle and high school social studies and history teacher. Both have committed their careers to Indian education.
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