Indigenous Education NABE News Columns 1998
© National Association for Bilingual Education
31. Collected Wisdom, 21(6), 9-10. 5/1/1998
32. Two Higher Education Programs which Promote Navajo and Hawaiian, 21(7), p. 29. 6/15/1998
33. Immersion Education, 21(8), 23-14. 8/1/1998
34. Importance of Reading, Part 1, 22(1), 11-12. 9/15/1998
35. Importance of Reading, Part 2, 22(2), 15-16. 11/1/1998
36. Comprehensive Federal Indian Education Policy Statement, 22(3), 9-10. 12/15/1998
37. Low Literacy, High Expectations, 22(8), 17 & 20. 8/1/1999
38. Who's Responsible, 23(1), 19 & 22. 9/15/1999
39. Neil Postman's The End of Education, 23(2), 24-25. 11/1/1999.
40. Transforming the Culture of Schools, 23(3), 14-15. 12/15/1999.
Collected Wisdom: American Indian Education is a different kind of book on American Indian Education. Rather than a study of a school or community or a synthesis of existing research on American Indian education, it is the result of a research project based on extensive interviews conducted by University of Minnesota professors Linda Miller Cleary, a non-Indian teacher educator, and Thomas D. Peacock, an Ojibwe former tribal school superintendent. They interviewed over 60 Indian and non-Indian teachers of Native American students working on or near nine reservations located across the U.S. and in two cities with high American Indian populations plus more than 50 other teachers in Australia and Costa Rica.
Collective Wisdom has eight chapters: The Teacher as Learner; Cultural Difference; What Has Gone Wrong; Creating a Two-Way Bridge; Issues of Native Language; Ways of Learning; Literacy, Thought and Empowerment; What Works; and an Epilogue. Overall the book has a secondary/high school emphasis, but many of the ideas are applicable to elementary classrooms.
Being Indian in a non-Indian world
Throughout the book, but especially in the first chapter, Cleary and Peacock share insights on how teachers adapt the way they teach to meet the challenges of teaching American Indian students. They found from their interviews that teaching styles coming from American mainstream society often fail to meet the needs of American Indian students. One non-Indian teacher stated, "We're basically bussing them into a white school, teaching them all of our history and our language and our culture, and then tossing them back out and expecting them to get a job and conform and be exactly like us" (p. 70).
The second chapter focuses on suboppression--the continuing tragedy of internalized oppression, which affects adversely the students who struggle with identity issues, self confidence, and self destruction. Students, who in their traditional teachings should they be lucky enough to have cultural teachings still intact, struggle to find balance and harmony. The past tragedy of students forced to leave their traditional lifeways to go to Bureau of Indian Affairs schools in order to become assimilated remains part of current memory and affects both parents' willingness to support schools and the attitude they display towards education in front of their children. Another manifestation of oppression discussed by the authors is its effect on students. Delayed adolescence, attendance issues, anger, hopelessness, fear of success, passive aggressive behaviors, low self esteem, self- destruction--all work against the efforts that dedicated teachers make to create the conditions for these students to empower themselves.
Chapter four describes ways to make the experience of living in two worlds less destructive and how to build bridges between Indian and non-Indian worlds. The authors write about the importance of native teachers being role models and discussing with their students how they achieved success in schools. All teachers need to participate in the community where they work to get to know the parents. By knowing the environments from which their students come each morning, teachers are able to make a conscious effort to teach to the needs of their students.
Some native students may not be interested in their own traditional culture, having grown up away from the more traditional teachings of their tribes. These students need to be understood and inspired to develop their own sense of purpose and worth.
Issues of Native language
The schools of thought on language loss and language maintenance are brought to light in chapter five, and the common belief "if a language dies, the culture also dies because the language contains and perpetuates the depth, subtleties, and nuances of culture" is discussed (p. 125). Language issues also include privacy and exclusion rights in order for a cultural group to preserve their religious freedom. The Hopi are an example of this where the language is not separate from the religion but is the very structure of its preservation. Bernita Humeyestewa says, "Its got to be valued at home. And that's why we have so many conflicting opinions about where it should be taught. I knew I was getting into a delicate situation this year by teaching it but I was really surprised that no one complained" (p.143).
American Indian learning styles
The authors' chapter on ways of learning shares research on the influence of culture on learning. They write,
The influence of home and community culture on learning styles was recognized by Swisher and Deyhle . . . in discussing the cultural difference hypothesis; they attribute poor academic performance to the differences between the environment and teaching methods of schools and the environment and teaching methods of student's homes and communities. Difficulties occur...because the ways children learn at home conflict with the ways schools teach. (p.156)The authors recommend group work with lots of dialogue in contrast to competitive classroom strategies. Because competence and self-assurance are vital issues with many native students, it is important to remove the pressure to perform and be singled out from those students who do not relate to such an approach. This does not mean that all native students are going to conform to this profile, but that those who would be threatened by such an approach would be relieved by such an option.
What teachers reported about literacy
This chapter if full of information about relevant reading material, the problem of student labeling in remedial programs, dialect interference, the influence of oral tradition, the need for explicit lessons in writing, and cultural differences in thought. For example,
People from oral traditions contextualize their articulation of thought; they depend on shared knowledge of the people who will be listening to them and do not necessarily articulate what others already know. People from literate traditions tend to decontextualize thought, to add the context that a distant audience will need to make sense of speech or writing. (p. 188)In regard to developing the empowerment of literacy the final chapter of the book concludes with explanations of why the incentives used by mainstream schools often don't work with Indian students.
Collected Wisdom has sprinkled throughout gems of teachings, stories to tell of these other ways to approach teaching. A Case Study entitled "The Great Circle of All Things" is an Ojibwe story of how a young boy skips school because his family needs his help with the fishing. It brings the reader to sense the real learning, the classroom of nature that the "truant" boy was experiencing and the unsaid need for that boy's teacher to understand.
Collected Wisdom is a valuable source book for parents, teachers, and counselors. Summing up the view of Wayne Newell, one of the teachers interviewed, Cleary and Peacock also sum up the message of their book:
The key to producing successful American Indian students in our modern educational system...is to first ground these students in their American Indian belief and value systems. (p. 101)Cleary, Linda Miller, & Peacock, Thomas D. (1998). Collected Wisdom: American Indian Education. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 272 pages. $25.00. ISBN 0-205-26757-2.
In 1992 the Navajo Division of Education began a Teacher Education Program with funding from the Ford Foundation for its first three years to train teachers to meet the goal of the 1984 Navajo Nation Education Policies that stated,
The Navajo language is an essential element of the life, culture and identity of the Navajo people. The Navajo Nation recognizes the importance of preserving and perpetuating that language for the survival of the Nation. Instruction in the Navajo language shall be made available for all grade levels in all schools serving the Navajo Nation. Navajo language instruction shall include to the greatest extent practicable: thinking, speaking, comprehension, reading and writing skills and study of the formal grammar of the languageThe goal of the Navajo Nation Teacher Education Program is "To prepare Navajo teachers who read, write and speak Navajo, who understand the social, economic, and cultural dynamics of Navajo communities, and who motivate and challenge students in the classrooms while providing a quality education that empowers Navajo students to succeed."
Diné College, formerly Navajo Community College, formed a partnership with Fort Lewis College, Northern Arizona University, Prescott College, University of New Mexico, and the University of Northern Colorado. This partnership had graduated an estimated 200 new Navajo teachers by 1996 with a retention rate of 85%. In addition to getting elementary certification, students in the program earned a bilingual teaching endorsement.
As part of the Navajo Teacher Education Program now offered at Diné College's Tsaile Campus students take an academic specialization in Navajo language, history, and culture that includes courses in Navajo Literacy for Speakers, Navajo Literature and Grammar for Speakers, Navajo Descriptive and Narrative Writing, Foundations of Navajo Culture, Navajo History to the Present, and one restricted elective related to Navajo Studies. Students are also required as part of their professional teacher preparation program to take courses in Diné Educational Philosophy, First and Second Language Acquisition, Teaching Navajo to Non-native speakers, Teaching Literacy in Bilingual Education/ESL Classrooms I & II, and Teaching Navajo to Native Speakers.
University of Hawai'i's Hawaiian Language Program
The 1990 census reported that less than five percent of Native Hawaiians the Hawaiian language, and most of these speakers were elderly. When Hawaiian was first taught at the university level in 1921 all Hawaiian adults spoke Hawaiian. The revival of interest in Hawaiian began in the 1970s. In 1996, declared by the Governor of Hawai'i as the Year of the Hawaiian Language in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the banning of Hawaiian in schools, Hawaiian was taught on the nine campuses of the University of Hawai'i. University enrollments in Fall 1994 totaled about 2,300 students. The content of all upper division courses in the Hawaiian Studies Department at the University of Hawai'i at Hilo is taught in Hawaiian.
Learning from Maori efforts in News Zealand, Hawaiian university faculty have been very involved in the establishment of Hawaiian language immersion preschools, elementary schools, and, most recently, high schools. The first preschools were opened in 1984 and by 1996 enrolled 1,208 students in Hawaiian language immersion programs in eleven schools, while another 3,500 students were in non-immersion Hawaiian language programs. The Hale Kuamo'o Hawaiian Language center is located at the University of Hawai'i at Hilo. Curriculum materials are developed at the Center for Hawaiian medium schools, including math and science texts and a Hawaiian language newspaper.
One area of emphasis in the University of Hawai'i's Hawaiian language efforts is in the area of using technology. In Hawaiian 201 and 202, a writing intensive intermediate level course at the Manoa campus, there are once-a-week computer lab sessions using e-mail and production of website materials. Hawaiian 300 and 400 level courses are taught to students on the major Hawaiian islands using interactive television. The Hawaiian Language Center's website address is http://www.olelo.hawaii.edu/
The National Foreign Language Center at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa sponsored a symposium and workshop this summer on advancing language immersion education focusing on Pacific perspectives and international applications. Workshop instructors included Helena Curtain of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Makalapua Ka'awa of the University of Hawai'i at Manoa, and Timoti Karetu, Maori Language Commissioner in New Zealand.
The purpose of the symposium held from July 6 to 10 was to "facilitate the sharing of resources, ideas, and information about all aspects of language immersion education." Over 80 participants from Australia, Canada, China, Japan, New Zealand, and the United States shared ideas about language policy, teaching methods, curriculum development, and assessment. Speakers described foreign language immersion programs teaching English, French, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, and Chinese and mother tongue immersion programs teaching indigenous languages, including Hawaiian, Maori, and Arapaho.
The two-week workshop with 20 participants that followed the symposium had four modules: pedagogy, culture, technology, and materials development. Participants were indigenous, heritage, and foreign language teachers either currently teaching in immersion programs or interested in starting one. They selected and developed "projects to prepare them to meet the challenges of language immersion education and share resources and information with colleagues."
Immersion has proven an effective successor to previous language teaching approaches of traditional grammar translation methods, the audiolingual methods of the 1960s, and communicative methods of the 1970s. The central characteristic of immersion is the teaching of language, content, and culture in combination without the use of the child's first language. Students are taught a second language they initially don't understand through the use of a variety of context clues provided by the teacher. Three hundred thousand students are in immersion classrooms today in the United States. Test scores show that immersion students learn the same academic content as students in English-Only classrooms along with a second language. Immersion students as they proceed together through the grades also develop a strong sense of camaraderie and often form a "values community" that reflects the positive aspects of the language and culture that they are learning.
Immersion language teachers provide ideally at least half-day (partial) immersion for students in the language they are targeted to learn and often students receive full-day (total) immersion. The less students are likely to be exposed to a new language outside of school the more they need to experience a second language in school. The pervasiveness in the broader community of the two languages is also a factor. The lesser the use of a language outside of school the more it needs to be supported in school. In fact, high prestige languages that are omnipresent in the community and especially in the media, such as English, will be learned even if they receive no support in the school.
Math and science are typical content subjects taught through immersion in the primary grades as they are best taught through the use of manipulatives and hands-on activities. In higher grades there is often less time spent in second language immersion and the subject taught is often social studies because of the difficulty of obtaining appropriate textbooks for higher level subjects.
Indigenous mother tongue immersion and foreign or second language immersion differ in terms of the commitment to culturally transforming the student. Mother tongue immersion seeks to transmit the children's indigenous culture while foreign language immersion seeks to create an understanding and appreciation of the culture of the new language.
The Maori and Hawaiian mother tongue language immersion programs are well developed. The Maori began with preschools, their kohanga reo, in 1982. The main tenets of the kohanga reo are that Maori is the sole language to be spoken and heard, no smoking is allowed in the environs, they are to be kept scrupulously clean in the interest of the health, and decisions are the prerogative of the parents who have children in the kohanga along with the care-givers.
Under pressure from parents who wanted their children's Maori education continued in the public schools, the New Zealand government established Maori immersion schools. Three Maori immersion classes have graduated from high school, and there are now five total-immersion high schools. Timoti Karetu, now the Maori language commissioner, was impressed by a visit to Navajo Community College, now Diné College, in 1976 and subsequently helped move his university to offer Maori immersion teacher training.
Learning, from the Maori example, the Hawaiian language immersion program began with family-based preschools in 1983 and in the public schools in 1987 after Hawai'i's English-Only law for schools was changed. A parent described to me his involvement in his child's Punano Leo, "This is a way of life...you have to take it home." He described to me how the Hawaiian immersion brings back the moral values of the culture and how the culture mends families. The English translation of the Punana Leo mission statement reads:
The Punana Leo movement grew out of a dream that there be reestablished throughout Hawai'i the mana of a living Hawaiian language from the depths of our origins. The Punana Leo family initiates, provides for, and nurtures various Hawaiian language environments. Our families are the living essence of these environments, and we find our strength in our spirituality, love of our language, love of our people, and love of knowledge.There are now ten preschools and 14 schools with immersion classes in Hawai'i. The first immersion cohort will graduate from high school next year, and the University of Hawai'i at Hilo has just begun a Hawaiian immersion teacher-training program to staff new immersion schools. Indigenous mother tongue immersion is in its infancy in the United States, relegated to preschool and primary examples such as the Arapaho language immersion program on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.
Indigenous mother tongue immersion programs are voluntary and require parent involvement. In Hawai'i parents are required to help in the preschools eight hours per month and to take classes in Hawaiian so they can support the instruction given in the schools. A non-profit corporation supports the preschools, provides post-secondary scholarships for the study of Hawaiian, and develops Hawaiian language curriculum and materials for use in the schools.
Many immersion teachers have learned the language they are teaching as a second language, and their speaking ability can be criticized. One indigenous language teacher noted "I don't speak like my grandmother, but I speak the language of my grandmother." Another teacher commented that we need to "Get beyond the notion you can only be smart in English."
An excellent review of the research on the importance of reading to academic success is Stephen Krashen's little book The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research (1993). While I do not want to rewrite his book here and re-cite the over 200 references found in it, I do want to give his conclusions based on his extensive study:
My conclusions are simple. When children read for pleasure, when they get "hooked on books," they acquire, involuntarily and without conscious effort, nearly all of the so-called "language skills" many people are so concerned about: They will become adequate readers, acquire a large vocabulary, develop the ability to understand and use complex grammatical instructions, develop a good writing style, and become good (but not necessarily perfect) spellers. Although free voluntary reading alone will not ensure attainment of the highest levels of literacy, it will at least ensure an acceptable level. Without it, I suspect that children simply do not have a chance. (p. 84)Krashen's thesis, supported by extensive research, is that children learn to read by reading. The more they read, the better readers they become because of their practice. If American Indian children spent as much time reading as they did shooting hoops or watching television, they would be good readers. Of course, to get children to spend a lot of time reading, they have to be encouraged to read, they have to find reading an enjoyable, entertaining experience, and they need easy access to a wide variety of reading material. The encouragement must come from family, friends, and teachers; the enjoyment depends upon children having access to high interest reading material; and reading material needs to be readily available in homes and in school and community libraries. If children are not encouraged to read, they may well never appreciate the worlds of enjoyment and information that reading can offer them; if they find the reading material they do have access to is too difficult or boring, they will avoid reading, and their progress as readers will be stalled; and if reading material is simply not available, efforts to get children to read are doomed.
Krashen advocates Free Voluntary Reading (FVR), which requires a variety of reading material available to children at home, in libraries, and especially in classrooms for them to select from based on their interests. Programs that advocate time set aside for FVR every day in every classroom such as Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) (McCracken, 1971) and Drop Everything And Read (DEAR) are valuable additions to any school curriculum. Krashen even supports the use of comic books with reluctant readers since comics often contain sophisticated vocabulary and the pictures provide clues for the reader to help they learn what that vocabulary means. Teachers can interest their students in FVR by reading high interest books to their students fifteen minutes or so every day, even in the upper grades. I have seen fourth and fifth students who were noisily jumping around in the late afternoon gather around and quiet down when their teacher began reading to them a high interest novel. Students who might be interested in different types of stories can not show any interest just because they have no idea of the type of stories that exist. Through reading to their students, teachers can introduce new material of slightly more complexity than the students can easily read to pique their interest and expand their horizons.
Unfortunately, almost all Indian reservation communities lack bookstores and many lack adequate libraries in both their schools and communities. Community, school, and classroom libraries are being gutted by budget cuts because no one wants to pay taxes. It has been argued by some that new media and computers make reading less important, but textbooks remain central to the classrooms today, and one must read webpages, e-mail, and the like on even the newest computers. However, the desire by educators t o be technologically up-to-date has led to more money being budgeted for computers and less on books.
Transitioning students from conversational to academic language proficiency.
Teachers, linguists, and even parents tell me that Indian children are too often not speaking their ancestral (tribal) language at all or well and are also not speaking English well. Some linguists use the controversial term "semilingualism" to describe this situation. Bilingual researchers such as Jim Cummins (1996) make the distinction between conversational and academic language proficiency. Indian children develop conversational language proficiency at home and in their primary classrooms but often fail to develop the academic language proficiency needed to handle grade-level academic material, especially lectures and textbooks from fourth grade on. Primary textbooks have a simple vocabulary and syntax and lots of pictures to provide children clues about meaning, but as the number of pictures declines and the vocabulary and syntax become more complicated, American Indian and other minority children often have problems making the transition. This is the same transition between primary picture books with pictures on every page to a juvenile novel that often have no pictures at all. Students who read a lot get the practice they need to make the leap from conversational to academic language proficiency. While they are not likely to read a lot of textbook material, because it is often not of high interest and it is not self-selected, if they are "hooked" on fiction and non-fiction trade books they will read a lot.
Picture books are designed to engage novice readers and get them to enjoy reading, but transitioning Indian children into juvenile novels (so-called chapter books because they are long enough to be divided up into chapters) is especially important for getting Indians students to do enough reading to get the practice they need to become fluent readers and develop academic language proficiency. Almost any chapter book that interests a child will do, but series books where a child who likes the first book will have many others in the series to read are especially important. Zane Grey or Louis Lamore westerns, Tarzan books, Nancy Drew mysteries, Sweet Valley High books, Goosebumps books, and the like are all useful. However all of these essentially deal with non-Indians, and it is very important for their identity that Indian children also read about people like themselves.
When I concur with the idea that reading is everything and focus on picture books and novels, I am not downgrading the subject matter areas of social studies, mathematics and science. What I am saying is that success in the content/subject-matter areas of the curriculum become increasingly dependent on students' reading abilities as they advance through the schools' grades. American classrooms are very reliant on textbooks, and even when their not, they are very reliant on supplementary reading material. In addition, the classroom, criterion reference, and standardized testing that schools use to measure student success are very much dependent as students in advance in grade level on their ability to read them. Students cannot score well on a math or science test even though they know something about math and science if they cannot read the questions on the test to understand what is being asked of them.
Novels can be used to enhance the core academic curriculum in a number of ways. T.L. McCarty (McCarty & Schaffer, 1992) writes about using Scott O'Dell's (1970) novel Sing Down the Moon as part of a social studies unit. The book is a fictionalized account of the Navajo's Long Walk, and eighth grade students supplemented their U.S. history textbook's information with material on Navajo history. I taught junior high science 25 years ago at Chinle Junior High. I would have liked to been able to use a novel back then such as the recent Jurrasic Park both because of its high interest and because it has a lot to say about both scientific ethics and how scientists gather information and develop theories. In addition, I would point out to students how much more information (and story) are in novels than in the movies made from those same books.
American Indian academic achievement: Sources of the problem
Another reason, besides lack of academic language ability, for poor academic performance centers around motivation as I described in my review of Alan Peshkin's 1997 book Places of Memory: Whiteman's Schools and Native American Communities in this column in the September 15, 1997 issue of NABE News. Mick Fedullo (1992) in his book Light of the Feather: Pathways Through Contemporary Indian America illustrates an extreme case of this cultural conflict with a quote from an Apache elder who stated that students' parents had,
been to school in their day, and what that usually meant was a bad BIA boarding school. And all they remember about school is that there were all these Anglos trying to make them forget they were Apaches; trying to make them turn against their parents, telling them that Indian ways were evil.Educators cannot hope to be successful with American Indian students who see education, school success, and reading as a "selling out" of their Indian heritage. Few curriculums exist to help Indian children resolve the conflicts between home and school that Peshkin documents. One of the few such curriculums available is Ed Tennant's (1994) "Eye of Awareness": Life Values Across Cultures developed for the Bering Strait School District in Alaska.
Well, a lot of those kids came to believe that their teachers were the evil ones, and so anything that had to do with "education" was also evil--like books. Those kids came back to the reservation, got married, and had their own kids. And now they don't want anything to do with the white man's education. The only reason they send their kids to school is because it's the law. But they tell their kids not to take school seriously. So, to them, printed stuff is white-man stuff. (p . 117)
Note: This is an edited version of a portion of a paper the author delivered on February 24, 1998 at the Third Exemplary Institute organized by Dean Chavers and held in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The second part will be published in the next issue of NABE News.
Fedullo, Mick. (1992). Light of the feather: Pathways through contemporary Indian America. New York: William Morrow.
Krashen, Stephen. (1993). The power of reading: Insights from the research. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited.
McCracken, Robert A. (1971). Initiating sustained silent reading. Journal of Reading, 14, 522-23.
McCarty, T.L., & Schaffer, R. (1992). Language and literacy development. In J. Reyhner (Ed.), Teaching American Indians students (pp. 115-131). Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.
O'Dell, Scott. (1970). Sing down the moon. Boston: Houghton Miflin.
Peshkin, Alan. (1997). Places of memory: Whiteman's schools and Native American Communities. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Tennant, Edward. (1994). "Eye of Awareness": Life values across cultures. Unalakleet, AK: Bering Strait School District.
Using books to help students deal with cultural conflict
Cultural conflict and reading may seem miles apart, but the selection of the right kind of books can help students work through these conflicts in a process that has been called bibliotherapy as well as to give them practice reading. For example, the books of Paul Pitts are excellent material for teaching American Indian students ways of dealing with cultural conflict:
Paul Pitts explores issues that many Native American children face that are not often addressed in children's novels. Racing the Sun, Shadowman's Way, and Crossroads each portray a young Navajo boy as the main character. The issues these boys face allow the books to be entertaining for both avid and reluctant adolescent readers. The central underlying themes in each of Pitts' books are how young children seek friendship and deal with cultural differences in defining their identity. (Steward, 1996, p. 43)Pitts' Shadowman's Way is a good example of a juvenile novel that could help American Indian children resolve the ambivalence that Peshkin (1997) found in the high school he studied. Spencer, a new white kid on the block in a Navajo community attempts to form friendships, but he is blocked by racial prejudice. A Navajo boy, Nelson who is open to a new friendship faces peer group pressure and is criticized as a "white man-lover" for his efforts. Spencer is called a "white ape" and "white dog," and Benjamin, a leader of the Navajo boys, declares that Spencer is "just like a white man" because he "pushes his way into some place he doesn't belong and then makes fun of what he finds there" (p. 80 ). Anglos [white people] "should stay where they belong, with people who understand them" (p. 63). Things come to a head between Nelson and Benjamin over letting the new boy into the Navajo Youth Center. Benjamin declares "the only thing...I had was the youth center...it was a tiny place that was mine...where they couldn't remind me I wasn't good enough" (p. 101). Nelson tries to get Benjamin to look past race, but Benjamin answers that Anglos "won't let you become par t of that world" (p. 102). The book brings out how Benjamin's ideas about whites are shaped by his parents' ideas, which were picked up through negative encounters with the "white world." Nelson's mother explains to him,
Some people decide whether others have any value on the basis of their skin, their clothes, how they talk. You can only hope, if you want those people to accept you, that they will take the time to get to know you as a person. (p. 104)Information for educators on Indian children's books
A recent book on Indian children's literature that could be used to help build a library for what I have called a heritage reading program (see Reyhner, 1992) is Jon C. Stott's (1995) Native Americans in Children's Literature, reviewed by Brian A. Bell in this column in the February 1, 1997 issue of NABE News. Stott lists more than 100 books by and about Americans Indians along with short synopses and critiques to help teachers find stories to use in their classrooms. It is critically important that books such as Stott describes and recommends are readily available year around for Indian students to read and to own. In addition, parents and community leaders should work with teachers and librarians in helping choose books. Parent and community involvement in the selection of books that would be heavily promoted for students to read would serve two purposes. First, it would help screen out books that could increase the cultural conflict between community and school that Peshkin found, and second it would get adults reading books and thus being role models for the children.
In communities without bookstores, school administrators should make available children's books for purchase. Teachers through monthly magazine book clubs and librarians through yearly book fairs are often doing this now to a degree, however, book clubs lack a good selection of books on American Indians and other topics of local interests, plus today's children want things right now, rather than waiting weeks for the teacher's mail order to come in. It is my experience that most students have money for soft drinks and other junk food and are willing to buy high interest books if they are readily available. In one reservation school where I was principal I used to take a book cart around to every classroom once a week selling paperback bo oks at cost and using the money to buy more books. I sold a lot of books. If there is a student store in your school, I would investigate ways it might sell some books. A third possibility is to get your school library to stock some paperback books for sale year around.
The health of American Indians have suffered greatly because they did not have the immunity to European diseases and the cultural prohibitions about the use of alcohol that immigrants brought with them from Europe. Likewise, the education of American Indian students has suffered greatly because American Indians did not have cultural teachings about the importance of reading in particular and school in general that European immigrants often brought with them. Educated Euro-Americans teach the importance and values of reading to their children before they ever get to school by regularly reading them bedtime stories and having books, magazines, and newspapers scattered around their houses. In contrast, one can find Indian households without books, and bookstores in Indian communities are virtually nonexistent, and libraries, other than school libraries, are not much more frequent.
While Headstart Programs have proven very effective, there is no school-based program that can compensate for what has been called the "LAP" method of teaching reading. Putting your child in your lap every evening and reading them a bedtime story not only teaches them pre-reading, reading readiness, and reading skills, it also associates reading in the mind of the child with all the warmth, love, and care that parents ideally give their children. Programs such as Reading Is FUNdamental (RIF) that help get books into homes, and programs that encourage older siblings in school to read to their younger siblings still at home are excellent ways to introduce pre-school children to reading.
The best picture books help teach children what it means to be a human being in the same way that traditional Indian stories do. Whether these stories are read or heard, they help enculturate children to become productive members of their communities. Children who are denied these oral and written stories are in danger of missing a moral compass that will keep them on course. Educators need to work with parents and communities to provide students with narrative guideposts, both oral and written, that will provide direction for our youth.
If educators are to turn things around for their Indian students, they must not just teach the phonics and other skills associated with reading, they must help develop a culture of reading in the communities they teach in by working to get reading materials into the home, building classroom paperback libraries, and maintaining well-run and well-stocked school libraries, and they need to see that students have opportunities to own their own books. However, having a lot of books is not the only criteria; reading materials should be carefully selected as to not be destructive of the student's culture! Educators need to be careful that the reading material they are stocking and promoting does not aggravate the cultural conflicts that Peshkin describes in the Indian boarding school he studied. By working with their students' parents and communities and studying the information in books on Indian education and Indian children's literature, teachers can help build a culture of reading for their students.
Bell, Brian A. (1997). A review of Native Americans in children's literature. NABE News, 20(4), 25.
Peshkin, Alan. (1997). Places of memory: Whiteman's schools and Native American Communities. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Pitts, Paul. (1988). Racing the sun by Paul Pitts. New York: Avon Camelot.
Pitts, Paul. (1992). The Shadowman's way. New York: Avon Camelot.
Pitts, Paul. (1994). Crossroads. New York: Avon Camelot.
Reyhner, J. (Ed.) (1992). Teaching American Indians students. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.
Steward, Jill. (1996). Review of Paul Pitts' Racing the sun, The Shadowman's way, and Crossroads. Journal of Navajo Education, 13(3), 43-44.
Stott, Jon C. (1995). Native Americans in Children's Literature. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press.
The September 15, 1998 issue of NABE News included a copy of President Clinton's Executive Order on American Indian and Alaska Native Education signed on August 6th. It is interesting to compare this document with the March 1997 Comprehensive Federal Indian Education Policy Statement: A Proposal from Indian Country to the White House that was endorsed by the National Indian Education Association, the National Congress of American Indians, the National School Boards Association, numerous tribes, and other Indian groups.
The Indian Education Policy Statement emphasizes tribal sovereignty, funding needs, self-determination, tribal involvement, and support for Indian languages. The Clinton Order emphasizes President George Bush's America 2000 (1991) goals and calls for regional forums and an Interagency Task Force on American Indian and Alaska Native Education. Another goal of the Clinton Order is "to address the fragmentation of government services available to American Indian and Alaska Native students and the complexity of intergovernmental relationships affecting the education of those students."
The goals of the Clinton document echo most of the 1991 goals the Indian Nations at Risk Task Force report, which was an Indian-oriented version of the 1983 A Nation at Risk report that was commissioned by former Secretary of Education Terrel Bell. In fact, Bell co-chaired the Indian Nations at Risk Task Force along with William Demmert, Jr.
Well-researched rebuttals have been made to the claims made in A Nation at Risk, with the most prominent being Gerald Bracey's (1991, 1992, 1993) articles in the Phi Delta Kappan and Berliner and Biddle's 1995 book The Manufactured Crisis. While not denying problems in American education, these rebuttals emphasize that America's schools are performing overall as well as they ever have, and the crisis is not general but more specific to the academic performance of most ethnic minority students, including American Indian students. Most importantly they document how more emphasis on reading, math, science, and technology will not, by itself, make much difference in our schools.
I would like to focus in this column on the different emphasis on Indian languages found in the two documents. This emphasis is based on my own interest in the teaching of Indian languages and because A Nation at Risk, which in many ways the thinking behind Clinton's Order parallels, has been used to attack bilingual education. It is worth noting that Berliner and Biddle specifically counter the claims of Bell's successor William Bennett that bilingual education is a failure.
In Clinton's Executive Order, the only specific mention of native languages is in section 2-f on putting together a "comprehensive Federal research agenda to.. evaluate the role of native language and culture in the development of educational strategies." On the other hand, the Comprehensive Federal Indian Education Policy Statement starts off in Section A-2 with the statement that federal agencies need to "develop an institutional knowledge that native languages, cultures, and traditions are extremely diverse and unique, and occupy an unparalleled status in the history and laws of the United States as the original languages, cultures, and traditions of North America." Section C of the Statement is devoted to the "Support of Native Languages and Cultures" with calls for funding, technical assistance, tribal control, academic credit, and teacher certification.
Clinton's Executive Order asks the new Interagency Task Force to again retrace well trodden trails rather than to break new ground implementing the findings and policies of the Native American Languages Act (P.L. 101-477) of 1990 that states "there is convincing evidence that student achievement and performance, community and school pride, and educational opportunity is clearly and directly tied to respect for, and support of, the first language of the child or student" and that "it is the policy of the United States to...preserve, protect, and promote the rights and freedom of Native Americans to use, practice, and develop Native American languages." In addition, the Indian Nations at Risk Task Force (1991) developed ten goals that both parallel Clinton's six new goals but also include the goal of maintaining of Native languages and cultures.
This is not to say I am entirely in agreement with the Comprehensive Federal Indian Education Policy Statement. That Statement emphasizes tribal sovereignty but not the responsibility that needs to go hand in hand with sovereignty. Tribes and tribal organizations want more direct funding from federal and state governments, but little is said about better using current funding.
Tribally controlled schools today too often model themselves after off-reservation schools, for example in emphasizing and valuing athletic over academic programs. I don't see the Policy Statement tackling the issue brought up by Alan Peshkin in my last two columns, the issue of poor academic performance by Indian students in relatively well funded Indian-controlled schools. There is still the notion that tribal control (and more funding) will, in and of itself, solve Indian problems. The experiences o f the last quarter century with self-determination have shown progress, but many problems remain unresolved despite local control. In fact, local control has produced a new set of problems, often based on factionalism within communities and tribes, that have replaced the older problems that were based on the lack of self-government.
The goals in Clinton's Executive Order of better reading, math, and science instruction, fewer dropouts, and safer schools are admirable, but they are being put forward pretty much in a cultural and linguistic vacuum that pulls attention away from how Indian communities and schools both need to change if Indian children are to value schooling. While the Clinton document speaks of fulfilling its educational commitment "in a manner consistent with tribal traditions and cultures," that thought is in danger of getting lost in the America 2000 rhetoric that dominates the Order.
Tribal Colleges and organizations such as the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES), headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, are showing how Indian languages and cultures can be integrated with technological education in order that Indian students can achieve the type of academic success that will allow them to compete for jobs in the modern workplace. One hopes that the Interagency Task Force will draw heavily on the work of the Tribal Colleges and AISES so that new trails are charted in its work rather than old trails merely revisited.
America 2000: An Education Strategy. (1991). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
Berliner, David C., & Biddle, Bruce J. (1995). The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud and the Attack on America's Public Schools. Reading, MA. Addison-Wesley.
Bracey, Gerald W. (1991). Why can't they be like we were? Phi Delta Kappan, 73(2), 104-117.
Bracey, Gerald W. (1992). The second Bracey report on the condition of public education. Phi Delta Kappan, 74(2), 104-117.
Bracey, Gerald W. (1993). The third Bracey report on the condition of public education. Phi Delta Kappan, 75(2), 104-117.
Comprehensive Federal Indian Education Policy Statement: A Proposal From Indian Country to the White House. (1997, March). Washington, DC: National Congress of American Indians.
Indian Nations at Risk: An Educational Strategy for Action. (1991, October). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform. (1983, April). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Peshkin, Alan. (1997). Places of memory: Whiteman's Schools and Native American Communities. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
After taking a year 's leave from Northern Arizona University--spending three months in the Fall directing a school on the Navajo Reservation and the Spring writing--I started teaching summer school at the beginning of June. I took over teaching a graduate level bilingual methodology course for a faculty colleague who received funding to do research.
Both my students and myself were impressed by the textbook my colleague has been using in this class: Fred Genesee's Educating Second Language Children (Cambridge University, 1994). While this book lacks some of the "make it and take it" activities that might be expected in a methods book, the students, most of whom were teachers, found much useful information in Genesee's book. I certainly found a lot of material in the book on which to reflect.
One chapter that particularly made me think was Else Hamayan's "Language Development of Low Literacy Students," which discussed how teachers can work with students coming from homes where they were not read bedtime stories and otherwise introduced to literacy. While Hamayan identifies the term primarily with refugees, I think the term applies to many children from low socio-economic backgrounds where if one does a home visit, one finds very little reading material.
My university students have learned to be sensitive to students' self esteem, and they emphasized in their class work sheltering students, especially English as a second language (ESL) students, from criticism that can discourage their beginning efforts in school. I was forced to do some serious reflection because of the criticism I received when I told some of my students that their writing was not up to graduate level standards. Some of my students could not write a short paper without major grammatical errors, e.g., sentence fragments, subject-verb disagreement, etc. Their grammar errors added to their problems with writing clear coherent essays. I responded to their criticism by telling them that it was my understanding that all educators should have high expectations for their students.
For a number of years the Bureau of Indian Affairs promoted the "Effective Schools" research as a way to improve their schools, and in 1988 the Bureau issued a Report on BIA Education: Excellence in Indian Education Through the Effective Schools Process. The number one characteristic of effective schools in that report was "Effective schools have high expectations for student success." This usually gets simplified to the statement that teachers should have high expectations for their students and should expect the same high level of academic work for their minority students as their majority group students.
I cannot argue with the idea of sheltering students from second language and low literacy environments so they can learn English and catch up with students that come from high literacy homes, but how long should it take for that to happen? Jim Cummins and Virginia Collier have written that it takes about seven years for ESL students to gain academic proficiency in English. To my knowledge, none of my students were recent immigrants to the United States.
However, some of my graduate students demanded "As" for their written work, even though in my judgement some of this work was seriously deficient. I have difficulty with this. Personally, I received "Fs" for some of my assignments and classes in the 1960s at the University of California at Davis, and the "high expectations" of my professors there drove me to work harder and improve my academic skills (and I came from a high literacy environment). When I was a student, I believed that "As" really meant "academic excellence." Students still want "As" for that reason. However, in some cases an "A" today has become the average grade, which is a clear devaluation of its original meaning. A few students get really mad--mad enough to sue their schools or universities--when they graduate and find their straight "A" average really means little today because of the change in grading standards. I think we have all heard of high school graduates who cannot read.
As part of my class this summer, I showed students some very low Bureau-wide BIA test scores from the 1988 Report cited above in which students in 1986 had reading scores that went from a high of the 25th percentile in first grade to a low of the 17th percentile in twelfth grade. My students rightly told me these scores were out of date, so I went to the school report cards on the Arizona Department of Education's web site. However, I found the Stanford 9 test scores from communities on the border with Mexico and Reservation schools were about the same as those 1988 scores at all grade levels.
The subtitle of Genesee's book is "The whole child, the whole curriculum, the whole community." That got me to thinking. Educators have repeatedly latched on to things like the Effective Schools Movement, Success For All, Accelerated Reading, and other programs that promise increased students' academic success. However, not much changes in the long run for students from low literacy environments, whatever programs are found in the schools. What needs to be done in whole communities is to produce high literacy. I am convinced by the research that even if the high literacy environment is non-English, the students will transfer their literacy skills relatively easily to English. Some of the anti-bilingual education spokepersons, as Stephen Krashen points out, learned to read and write well in their native country before they immigrated to the United States and thus experienced a de-facto bilingual education.
In the Navajo Nation and some other Indian Nations I am familiar with, I have seen high school gymnasiums that a university would be proud to have, but I have never seen one of these schools with a library that a university would be proud to have. These same schools hire coaches that teach on the side. Teachers often have to spend their own money if they want to make their classrooms a print rich, high literacy environments, while coaches do not have to pay for their players' athletic supplies. Valedictorian students from these schools, in some cases, have gone to community colleges and found the work too difficult. Perhaps this is stating the case too strongly, but grade inflation that has helped these students self esteem in the short run tends to catch up with them at the point when they go off to college or try to get any kind of job that requires academic preparation. If we prolong the charade in college, we are not really helping the students progress.
I am not saying that some of my students this summer did not belong in graduate school. What I am saying is that they really need to make an effort to write better and learn more about bilingual education. It seems pretty sure that Arizona will be subjected to a vote on an initiative similar to California's proposition 227. Graduate students in bilingual education need to be able to help their own students read and write better. They also need to be able to write letters to the editor, speak to community organizations, and present the case for bilingual education in writing and speech in a way that will make their audience understand bilingual education better. All my students have the potential to do this well, but some need to put in more effort to realize this potential. I cannot get them to make the effort if I give them "As" for all their assignments, and when they go back to their classrooms in the Fall, how will they demonstrate high expectations for their own students?
I was a school administrator for ten years. I can say it is very embarrassing when a teacher writes a note home to parents saying Johnny is not doing well in school (or is doing well) and the note is full of spelling and grammar errors. I see it as part of my job now that I am teaching at a university to help my students make sure when they get back to their schools that they are not an embarrassment to our university, to our schools, and to our profession.
Leupp Public School in the Navajo Nation has a new principal this fall. According to an article in the Arizona Daily Sun (8/10/99, p. 7) the former principal was dismissed from her position and reassigned to be a counselor in another school because of her school's poor test scores even though parents thought that she was "a Navajo with deep roots in the community, was a good, caring administrator and the school's lack of resources was at fault."
Assessing The School's Scores
Leupp Elementary and Middle School is the only all-Navajo school and the only school in the Flagstaff School District that is on the Navajo Reservation. Compared with the other schools in the district, the Leupp's Stanford 9 test scores are very low, but compared to other public, charter, and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) funded schools in the Navajo Nation and other Indian communities across the country, the Leupp scores are about average.
The Flagstaff School Board hired a new Navajo principal from the community who was most recently co-principal of Greyhills Academy High School, a school that advertises an academic college-bound curriculum, which is also on the Navajo Reservation. However, the 1997-98 Stanford 9 test scores for students at Greyhills, if anything, are even lower than the Leupp test scores.
The question addressed in this column is the old one of "who or what is responsible for these low test scores of American Indian and Alaska Native students?" Thirty year's ago local control and more culturally sensitive curriculum and instruction were put forward to solve the problem of low achievement. Leupp Public School is one of the minority of schools remaining on the nation's largest reservation that does not have an all Navajo school board, however test scores in these locally controlled schools remain low in comparison to national norms. Thirty years ago there were only a handful of certified Navajo teachers, now they make up the majority of teachers in many Navajo schools.
In my last column I wrote about students coming from low literacy environments--from homes with little or no reading material in any language. Since writing that column I talked to a teacher who worked next door to Greyhills Academy for six years in the public high school. He told me about a conversation he had with one of the school board members. He asked the school board member who was responsible for the academic success of her child, and she answered it was the school. The teacher, based on his religious and cultural upbringing, argued that no it was her, as a parent, who was responsible. He told me how when some of his high school students visited his home, how amazed they were at all the books his family had.
One can understand the school board member's answer based on the history of American Indian education. The government and churches started building a system of boarding schools in the last half of the nineteenth century to get Indian children away from their parents who were considered a regressive, "savage" influence. These boarding schools never had a particularly academic focus. The most famous, Carlisle Indian School, had a football team that played and beat teams from Harvard, Princeton, and other universities, but a graduate of Carlisle only had the equivalent of a fifth grade education, and most students who attended Carlisle never graduated.
Indian schools, whether operated by the BIA or missionary societies, usually had low expectations for their students. Their goal was to prepare them to become farmers or take up a trade such as tinsmithing. I am becoming increasingly pessimistic about the idea that schools, even linked with Head Start programs, can overcome the advantage children have who come to school from high literacy homes where they are read bedtime stories regularly, are taken to the library by their parents, and have children's books in their bedrooms. This is not to say that I particularly blame parents who can be working two jobs just to put a roof over their children's head and food on the table, who have been told to leave education to the experts, and who have been taken in by all the advertisements they are bombarded with on television and elsewhere as to what is important in life.
In Search of Answers
The same teacher who asked the school board member "Who's responsible" told me how he had to reassess the way he taught when one of his top students asked him "Why are we learning chemistry?" If I had been asked that question when I was in high school I think I would have answered it was to get into the university, but I came from a high literacy household. In fact when I was going to be put into remedial reading at the end of third grade, my mother who had no teacher training stepped in to tutor me over the summer.
This teacher started adjusting his instruction to problem-based, then issue-based, and finally community-based science instruction to try to engage his students in what they were learning. For example, to teach about nutrition he got his students involved in a local Diabetes Awareness Day. The students researched diabetes, a major health problem for American Indians, in books and through interviews with health professionals. They then presented the information on diabetes prevention that they had learned in English and Navajo to community members at the local grocery store and elsewhere. Other projects that got students involved were studying local water quality and the uranium mine tailings just out of town.
He told me the students were very interested in what they were learning, but other teachers and the school administration became very upset with having students going on field trips--even though these science related field trips took up much less time away from the classroom than athletic field trips. The result was that this teacher, who was my son's sophomore chemistry teacher, ended up going to work at my university. The importance of student interest and engagement is highlighted by two major studies that reported that "boredom" was the major reason Navajo dropouts gave for leaving high school.
Indian schools that are often not particularly well funded seem to be spending what little extra money they have on athletics and technology and often not providing classroom teachers with the basics they need to teach with. My son especially enjoyed his sophomore chemistry class because he got to do a lot of hands-on experiments. I was told that was only made possible because the previous summer the school administration changed and there was no principal on board to cut the teachers' supply orders.
Creating a high literacy environment is harder in low socioeconomic homes, but it is not impossible. Imagine this--if we somehow got children to spend as much on books as many do on soda pop and other junk food, they would both be less at risk for diabetes and their homes would overflow with books. But the responsibility should not lie with the children alone! Schools can promote literacy, even producing books in a tribe's language, but it is parents and extended family members that can make a real difference in the home. If sports, television, video-games, and video-tapes dominate the homes, I see no way that those low Stanford 9 test scores will ever rise at Leupp or elsewhere, whoever is appointed the school principal.
I recently came across Neil Postman's 1995 book The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School (Vintage Books) in a local used bookstore. Having read other books by Postman, I bought it and was interested to find that he considered multiculturalism one of the false gods being followed by some teachers today.
I assigned the book as required reading in my undergraduate Foundations of Multicultural Education class that I am teaching this Fall as a companion text to Sonia Nieto's Affirming Diversity (see the September 15, 1994 issue of NABE News for a review of that book) because I thought it would get my students thinking about how the field of multicultural education fits into education in general.
In contrast, Postman supports cultural pluralism, which he defines as bringing into the school the stories of America's minorities to first provide "a fuller and more accurate picture of American culture and, especially, its history," to second show that despite horrendous treatment of minorities, American has and is making efforts to improve, and to third "show that there were substance and richness in each tribal tale" that all of us are better for knowing (p. 17).
Besides the false god of multiculturalism that some educators are following, Postman describes other false gods Americans are worshipping, including consumership, economic utility, and technology. In other words, we are what we buy, schooling is simply to prepare students for jobs, and the increased use of computers and other technology is the key to reforming schools.
Postman's book is divided into two sections. The first section describes the false gods and proposes some alternative ways of looking at the purpose of education. For Postman, "schools are not now and never have been about getting information to children" (p. 42). Instead, "the idea of public education depends absolutely on the existence of shared narratives and the exclusion of narratives that lead to alienation and divisiveness" (p. 17).
The first proposed narrative uses the metaphor Spaceship Earth to link us with all the other inhabitants of our planet and emphasize that "we can no longer take for granted the well-being of the planet" and need to work together world-wide to take care of our environment (p. 64). Furthermore, we cannot show responsibility towards the physical world we live in without a knowledge of the sciences. Showing responsibility for one's world, and in particular one's neighborhood, would in Postman's view give students a feeling of usefulness that many now lack.
The second narrative of the Fallen Angel is a counter to the self-esteem movement in America schools and what Postman views as hubris, pride, dogmatism, and arrogance among Americans. In this journey of understanding students must learn to "esteem something other than self" (p. 76).
In describing the Fallen Angel narrative, Postman is particularly critical of textbooks because he considers most of them to be badly written "packaged truths" that give students a false sense of certainty about their subject matter.
Postman's third narrative is the American Experiment in which he sees the history of our country as an ongoing attempt to develop a better way of living and where documents such as the Declaration of Independence are arguments about the purposes of nations and the roles of citizens.
For Postman, America's narratives of democracy, the melting pot, and the Protestant ethic share themes, for example, of "family honor, restraint, social responsibility, humility, and empathy for the outcast" (p. 15). He thinks it is wrong that "there is certainly more emphasis, these days, on loving one's self than on loving one's country" (p. 131), and he hopes that the arguments over what is the best form of government will never end.
Postman includes "a list of 'values' students should accept, such as justice, honesty, self-discipline, due process, equality, and majority rule with a respect for minority rights, each of which is not so much a 'value' as it is a focal point of a great and continuous American argument about the meaning of such abstract terms" (p. 131). When the arguments stop is when wars begin. One of the big questions facing America today is whether it is "possible to have a coherent, stable culture made up of people of different languages, religions, traditions, and races?" (pp. 135-36).
The fourth narrative is the Law of Diversity. Here Postman again criticizes multiculturalism as he defines it where "if everything is seen through the lens of ethnicity, then isolation, parochialism, and hostility, not to mention absurdity, are the inevitable result" (p. 76). For Postman, "diversity does not mean the disintegration of standards, is not an argument against standards, does not lead to a chaotic, irresponsible relativism. It is an argument for the growth and malleability of standards" (p. 80).
For Postman, "to promote the understanding of diversity is, in fact, the opposite of promoting ethnic pride. Whereas ethnic pride wants one to turn inward, toward the talents and accomplishments of one's own group, diversity wants one to turn outward, toward the talents and accomplishments of all groups" (p. 144). Furthermore, we should read minority authors because their work is good not because it was written by minorities. For example good children's literature is both well told or written and helps students understand the human condition, as do both Greek fables and American Indian coyote stories.
Finally Postman writes, "If we are serious about making diversity a central narrative in the schooling of the young, it is necessary for our students to learn to speak at least one language other than English fluently" and to do this we need to start with young children (p. 149). I would add that rather than just teaching a second language as a subject, we need to teach young children through that language as well in order for them to truly master it. In other words, all children need bilingual education!
Lastly, Postman puts forth the narrative of humans as The Word Weavers/The World Makers. He sees the strength of the English language is the fact that because of the repeated invasions of England and its use around the world it has picked up words from many different languages with the result that it "is the most diverse language on earth, and because of that, its vitality and creativity are assured" (p. 78). Furthermore, "We use language to create the world--which is to say, language is not only a vehicle of thought; it is also the driver" (p. 83), and "almost all education is a form of language education. Knowledge of a subject mostly means knowledge of the language of that subject" (p. 123).
Too often we teach children the definition of a word rather than a definition of a word, which leads them to assume words are part of the natural world rather than something invented by humans. "The word cup, for example, does not in fact denote anything that actually exists in the world. It is a concept, a summary of millions of particular things that have a similar look and function" (p. 181).
The central theme of The End of Education is that "without a narrative, life has no meaning. Without meaning, learning has no purpose. Without a purpose, schools are houses of detention, not attention" (p. 7). In the broadest view, the end and purpose of education is to get children to join the age-old search for "what it means to be human" (p. 60). There is no set understanding about this that teachers can deliver to students in capsule form.
However, students can learn about how people have lived and brought meaning to their lives in the past by studying anthropology, history, and literature. They can learn about how people worked and are working to make sense the physical world we live in through the study of science. And they can learn about people today by studying subjects such as psychology, sociology, political science, and even Native American Studies. To my mind, the end of education is to get students to join in the age-old human quest to bring meaning to our lives. This is a multicultural quest that all cultures have contributed to, are contributing to, and will contribute to.
Title VII and other bicultural teacher training programs have increased the number of minority teachers in America. However because teaching expectations are culturally-based, these teachers often encounter distrust, disdain, and hostility in their new classrooms. The recently published book, Transforming the Culture of Schools: Yup'ik Eskimo Examples (Lawrence Erlbaum, 1998), describes these apparently insurmountable difficulties and the subsequently creative solutions. These Yup'ik Eskimo teachers discovered their key solution to be the Ciulistet, an indigenous support group.
The University of Alaska's Cross-Cultural Education Development (X-CED) Program founded a quarter century ago is a field-based teacher training program for Native Alaskans that has helped increase the number of indigenous teachers in Native Alaskan villages from less than one percent to twenty-five percent since its conception. However, graduates of the program often felt rejected on two fronts: mainstream teachers and school administrators scorned the alternative nature of their teacher-training program, and Native Alaskan communities ostracized the alien appearance associate with being a teacher. As Yu'pik teachers began to enter the school systems "they were both welcomed and treated as objects of suspicion. Administrators feared if they hired Native teachers, they could never dismiss a poor or unsuccessful teacher" (p. 46).
For the village community, new Yup'ik teacher "should not act white, but if she acted as herself (Yup'ik), she was not considered a 'real teacher,' or not as good as the White teachers" (p. 60). Thus, the new Yup'ik teachers "struggled with doubts about their effectiveness as teachers and about their ability to be of service to their communities" (p. 25).
In an effort to balance expectations, the Yup'ik teachers rejected the profuse bubbly praise promoted by outside teachers --Yup'iks believe that, "overly praising will ruin a person" (p. 126). More important, they wanted to provide their students with greater comprehensible input in terms of language and content. Although this approach contradicted the dominant decontexualized methodology pervading Alaskan schools, the teachers understood the necessity for a Yup'ik culture-based curriculum. Yup'ik "children in the village were raised to be self-reliant and have a great deal of responsibility." However, "in school, they learned to look upon the teacher as an authority figure who tells them what to do, when to do it, and how to do it." (p. 95).
A Yup'ik teacher emphasized "establishing a strong personal relationship with students," in contrast to the outsiders' ideas that "good teachers" were teachers who had the "ability to impart content knowledge" (p. 101) and that content was designed to replace the Yup'ik language and traditional cultural knowledge and values. Thus the growing number of Yup'ik teachers were faced with a cultural conflict just as their students were. Fortuitously, one new sympathetic superintendent of schools encouraged the formation of a group of all the certified Yup'ik teachers in his school district in 1987, which became known as the Ciulistet. The Ciulistet has grown into a general support group for Yup'ik teachers and has expanded over time to include village elders.
This support is needed because "Yup'ik culture conflicts powerfully with cherished values associated with mainstream schooling and society" (p. 5). Mainstream schooling, according to the authors, emphasizes "abstract learning decontextualized from personal experience and organized into chunks to fit prescribed time, spaces, and places of learning" while Yup'iks desire "knowledge validated through personal experiencetypically related to subsistence off the land" (p. 25).
The new Yup'ik teachers did not take to phonics instruction and the pervasive Nomination, Elicitation, Evaluation (NEE) model of teaching use by the outsider teachers. In the NEE model a teacher repeatedly calls on individual students in their classroom and asks them questions that the teacher already know the answer to, and then the teacher tells the whole class whether a student has answered correctly. This teaching model spotlights individual students in a way which is contrary to traditional Yup'ik child rearing practices.
Various "rigid" programs that have been designed for minority children--such as DISTAR, Madeline Hunter's version of Direct Instruction, and Success for All that tend to turn both students and teachers into robots following a script--were disliked by Yup'ik teachers because the programs forced teachers to rush through lessons and did not allow them flexibility. Yupik teachers wanted to treat their students like a family rather than as objects for drill and practice.
However, the situation faced by Ciulistet teachers is not an either/or choice between traditional Yup'ik life and child rearing practices and mainstream American culture and its classroom practices. While schools are a meeting place between the two cultures, neither are monolithic entities . "Traditional cultures face a series of modern choices" and Yup'ik teachers act as cultural brokers "negotiating a curriculum with the help of both village elders and outside facilitators such as the professors in the X-CED program" (pp. 26-27).
Yup'ik teachers called for "more content that related to the children's environment and culture so they could learn rapidly" (p. 52), but they also recognized the need for literacy and learning about the outside world. The Ciulistet teachers have found that the rich Yup'ik "oral tradition, rich in its explanations of the relationships among people and between people and the environment, offers teachers numerous possibilities for developing oral and written literacy" (p. 193).
Using support from the National Science and Annenburg Foundations, Ciulistet teachers developed culturally appropriate mathematics and science curriculum. This culturally compatible curriculum built mathematical and science concepts on the prior knowledge that students brought to the classroom from their village, including their fluency in the Yup'ik language. However, use of the Yup'ik language is still marginalized in the schools with the result that unless more progress is made, the language will be lost.
While not easy reading, Negotiating the Culture of Schools highlights the problems faced and opportunities offered as more ethnic minorities become teachers in our schools. Historically, the dominant culture's approach to minority schooling that concentrates on replacing the minority culture and its language with the dominant culture and English has failed many minority students. When this assimilationist approach is persisted in, as seems to be the case now in California under Proposition 227, some children and their families reject schooling while other children can become lost between their families and the demands of the school.
To prevent this persistent failure, the authors of Negotiating the Culture of Schools recommend increasing the number of minority teachers, helping them form support groups, involving elders and other community members in those groups, and establishing ties to other groups, including indigenous educators elsewhere, and even to mainstream teachers once the local community has a clear educational agenda mapped out.
The culturally negotiated curriculum advocated by the authors of this book offers more than a compromise and is not simply a matter of "taking the best from both cultures." It is a complex process of decision making that must go on in every community to determine what is best for that community and its children. It is not something that can be mandated from any state or national capital. It is a curriculum that parents must buy into as well, so maybe if Congress requires parents to agree to putting their children into bilingual programs, the results will not all be bad.
I recently viewed again the videotape E Ola Ka '0lelo Hawai'i produced by the 'Aha Punana Leo (1997) in Hawai'i, which dramatically portrays the most successful recent effort for indigenous language revitalization in the United States. This video makes a powerful statement about the value of the Hawaiian language and culture for Native Hawaiians, and it especially emphasizes the successful efforts to change English-only state laws and to involve the whole family in their children's schooling and to make the school and classroom "like a family."
Individual teachers neither can produce a whole new culturally responsive curriculum on their own nor can they individually change repressive laws. It is through group efforts such as the Ciulistet and 'Aha Punana Leo that indigenous teachers can find the moral and curricular support they need to transform the culture of their schools.
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