7 Things Teachers Need to Know About Native American Heritage Month
Without guidance, too many teachers will celebrate Native American Heritage Month in the only ways they know how: paper bag vests and feathers, classroom pow wows, and discussions on who Indians were.
Only a handful of states have an Indian Education Department, and mainstream teachers outside of those states may rely on their own familiar sources for Native history, culture and perspective. Without training, teachers are left to their own devices when it comes to assessing curriculum and lesson plans. Without any guidelines to appropriate and authentic Native curriculum or cultural differences, tribal lifeways are too often stereotyped in the classroom.
The vast majority of Native students, 90 percent, attend public schools. Native student drop out rates are almost three times higher than they are for white students, and that number can increase significantly depending on the school district. Research shows Native students stay in school when their culture and history are relevant in the classroom.
Even for teachers with the best intentions, great material may be hard to recognize without understanding the basics: worldview, sovereignty, circular thinking, true history. Teachers who teach local history with facts that include real outcomes will find their students more engaged than when they teach solely from history books.
Teachers can’t know what they don’t know, and if they have never spent time immersed in any Native culture they won’t know the effects of colonization or of ongoing issues in U.S. and Native politics. If teachers do not know the very basic and important facts, they cannot teach Native studies from an unbiased point of view.
Feel free to print this out and give it to your kid’s teachers.
Here then are 7 things teachers need to know:
When looking at teaching materials, make sure Native resources were used. Check the bibliography! Read why the “dead and buried approach” doesn’t work in “Countering Prejudice against American Indians and Alaska Natives through Anti bias Curriculum and Instruction.”
Cultural Identity in Education
Diana Cournoyer, National Indian Education Association program coordinator, said, “Indian students need to know where they come from and have a sense of pride, of individualism in saying, I am Oglala, as opposed to, I am Native American. What does your history hold, as a tribal nation battling the U.S. government?” Cournoyer said research shows Native students are more likely to succeed in their education when their history and culture is taught. With 566 federally recognized tribes, language differences and cultural practices unique to each tribe, Cournoyer said, “Teachers need to take several steps to determine who the students are in their school system and ask, ‘How do I honor them?’”
100-Plus Years of Inappropriate Curriculum
Formal Indian Education began in 1892 with the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in 1892. The 1928 Merriam Report detailed the abysmal conditions of the Indian boarding schools and the lack of educational opportunities for Native children. In 1968, the Kennedy Report called Indian education a “national tragedy,” and the 1991 Indians Nations At Risk Report called for more Native teachers, more tribal language and cultural activities in the classroom, and appropriate curriculum.
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