Return to NABE Table of Contents

Indigenous Education NABE News Columns 2000
© National Association for Bilingual Education

50. How to Keep Indigenous Languages Alive, 26(5), 22, May/June 2003
49. Identity, Schooling, and Success, 25(4), 20-21, March/April 2002
48. Place- and Community-Based Curriculum for High School English Language Learners, 25(3), 23-24, January/February 2002
47. Identity and Academic Success, 25(1), 18 & 33, September/October 2001
46. Literacy and School Success, 24(4), 18-19. March/April 2001.
45. Hard Truths, Deep Structure, and Bilingual Education, 24(3), 26 & 46. January/February 2001
44. Indigenous Community-Based Education, 24(2), 23. November/December 2000
43. English for the Children--Arizona, 24(1), 15 & 35. September/October 2000
42. Culturally Responsive Math and Science Education for Native Students, 23(6), 10-11. 5/1/2000.
41. Indigenous Language Use and Change in the Americas, 23(5), 9-10. 3/15/2000.

How to Keep Indigenous Languages Alive
May/June 2003, Vol. 26, No. 5, p. 22.
Jon Reyhner

[A review of Leanne Hinton, Matt Vera and Nancy Steele's How to Keep Your Language Alive: A Commonsense Approach to One-on-One Language Learning. Berkeley, CA: Heyday Books, 2002. 123pp.]

There is growing awareness around the world about the large number of severely endangered languages that are today spoken by only a few elderly people. These languages will be dead in only a few years unless younger people start speaking them. A new book, How to Keep Your Language Alive: A Commonsense Approach to One-on-One Language Learning, focuses on how to effectively pass on these severely endangered languages to a new generation of speakers. Anyone wanting to learn a new language from a native speaker of that language will find good advice in this book.

How to Keep Your Language Alive centers around giving advice to young adults who were not taught their ancestral language when they were children and who now want to learn that language from one of the few remaining elderly speakers. This is a particularly applicable program to California with its many severely endangered American Indian languages, and the advice in the book is drawn from a decade of experience there with the Master-Apprentice (M-A) Language Learning Program administered by the Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival.

Central to starting an M-A program is the identification of a highly motivated team consisting of a young adult learner and a speaker. These speakers are usually elderly and do not have the stamina to teach in a classroom. The M-A approach uses immersion techniques that avoid translation and are embedded in activities, including traditional activities. The focus of the M-A program is developing oral communicative competence, and its teaching techniques find support in Stephen Krashen's research on the "input hypothesis" and James Ashers' Total Physical Response approach to language teaching.

The authors emphasize and expand on ten key points: leaving English behind, making yourself understood with nonverbal communication, teaching in full sentences, aiming for real communication, recognizing that language is culture, focusing on listening and speaking, learning and teaching through activities, audiotaping and videotaping for review, and finally being sensitive to each others needs, being patient, and being proud of each other.

The learner has to take lead in the M-A program and start teaching what he or she is learning to someone else, and new vocabulary will have to be created to talk about new things, such as the tape recorder the apprentice might use so he or she can review each session. While the main focus is on the master and apprentice talking to each other, the learner can draw on ethnographic collections at universities and museums.

The authors describe goals for the first, second and third years and a typical session. Learners and teachers are warned about reaching plateaus where, after some relatively rapid advances, there is a period of time when it seems no progress is being made. It is estimated that about 600 hours of practice will be needed for a new speaker to achieve some fluency in their new language. In appendix a there is description of how to develop a community-based M-A program, and in appendix b there is an explanation of how M-A principles can be applied in the classroom.

I highly recommend this book to anyone working in the area of language revitalization

Identity, Schooling, and Success
NABE News, March/April 2002, Vol. 25, No. 4, pp. 20-21.
Jon Reyhner

In the September/October 2001 issue of NABE News I wrote a column on "Identity and Academic Success." In this column, I want to expand on the importance of helping students build a strong positive sense of identity as well as developing their academic knowledge and skills.

Identity as Responsibility and Inner Direction

Identity is not just a positive self-concept. It is learning your place in the world with both humility and strength. It is, in the words of Vine Deloria, "accepting the responsibility to be a contributing member of a society" (Deloria & Wildcat, 2001, p. 44). It is children as they grow up finding a "home in the landscapes and ecologies they inhabit" (Deloria & Wildcat, 2001, p. 71). Children also need to develop the "inner direction" described by David Riesman (1950) to develop a strong identity to withstand the onslaughts of a negative hedonistic and materialistic popular TV and Hollywood culture, fears engendered by terrorism, and the pervasive culture of poverty that envelopes many reservations and inner cities. Teachers need to help children develop resilience so they can bounce back from the negative experiences that they, and all of us, are sure to face in life.

The common transmission or direct instruction teaching approach using lectures and textbooks that forms the indoctrinating teaching methods and materials of many schools today do not help develop truly strong identities. Having students in an engaging education who thoughtfully experience and interact with their social and physical environment produces them. Jim Cummins (2000) describes this as a "transformative pedagogy" that enables "students to relate curriculum content to their individual and collective experience and to analyze broader social issues relevant to their lives" (p. 246). This is a joint learning experience that involves both students and teachers in the learning process.

Quoting from one of his earlier books, Cummins notes "if teachers are not learning much from their students, it is probable that their students are not learning much from them" (p. 52). Linda Cleary and Thomas Peacock (1998) in their study of teachers of Indian students also found this theme of "teacher as learner." Teachers need to learn about the lives of their students beyond the school grounds to learn more about the home language and culture of their students and see better the challenges that their students face in their lives.

Broadening Academic Factors

Educators need to teach academic content and also help students retain and develop their identity as members of an ethnic group, as Americans, and as citizens of the world. Instructional methodology and curriculum are not the only variables in student academic success. A key factor for academic success is how students, parents, and communities view themselves and schools. Ideally, they need to change the meaning and content of schooling so that they can see it as true education and part of their maturational process as human beings. It is important whether in this process teachers are viewed as enemies or friends. Are teachers the enemy seeking to suppress indigenous and other minority languages and cultures, as was so often the case in the past and as the passage of California's Proposition 227 and Arizona's Proposition 203 tends to promote today? Or are teachers students' friends--seeking to build students' ethnic identities, acquainting them to the wider national world they will spend their lives dealing with, and introducing them to the wider international world our country has to deal with as well?

Other Barriers to Success

Too often, I have found that the actual situation in some minority communities is like the one Larry Colton (2000) describes in his study of a Crow high school basketball star. There, grandmother and the rest of the extended family fail to realize that basketball and rodeo performances are no substitute for education, whether traditional or modern. On the other hand, academics alone are not a full education. Grandmother will probably not be an enthusiastic supporter of schooling if she perceives that her grandchild will move hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away to get a job once successfully educated, leaving her with no one to chop her firewood and take her to town for groceries. She also wants to see and be near her great grandchildren. The definition of being "Indian" (or a member of some other ethnic group) and educated needs to extend beyond sports and other such limited definitions and be strengthened with traditional wisdom, the "collective wisdom" described by Cleary and Peacock (1998) that needs to be the foundation of our educational system.

Ethnic groups rightly tend to focus on their traditional moral and spiritual strengths, however it is important as Daniel Wildcat writes not to "romanticize the past" (Deloria & Wildcat, 2001, p. 8). There is in fact a danger that Indians and other minority groups can in fact define themselves as the "white man's shadow," as opposite everything that the materialistic and individualistic Euro-American man is perceived as being (Simard, 1990). This is a topsy-turvy version of "blame the victim" becoming an unthinking "blame the oppressor" for everything that is going wrong in one's life and one's community.

The danger for students of this "oppositional identity" is that things like literacy and academic success, which are increasingly critical for economic survival, can be seen as un-Indian, "acting white," and "selling out" to the white man. University of California professor John Ogbu (1995) recommends that educators realize that Indian and other "involuntary minority" children can have "oppositional identities" in regard to schooling or at least the mixed feelings that Alan Peshkin (1997) found in his study of a New Mexico Indian high school. For success, one must make a decision to learn despite all the cultural insensitivity that can be displayed in schools, but one need not assimilate.

Dismantling Barriers

Ogbu recommends that teachers study the history and cultural adaptations of their students' ethnic groups, have special counseling programs to help students separate attitudes and behaviors enhancing school success from those that lead to linear acculturation or "acting white," and promote "accommodation without assimilation" or "playing the classroom game." He further recommends to minority communities:

Note: Parts of this paper are adapted from the author's forthcoming essay book review in the Journal of American Indian Education titled Power, Politics, Bilingual Education, and School Success.


Cleary, L.M., & Peacock, T.D. (1998). Collected wisdom: American Indian education. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Colton, L. 2000. Counting coup: A true story of basketball and honor on the Little Big Horn. New York: Warner Books.

Cummins, J. (2000). Language, power and pedagogy: Bilingual children in the crossfire. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Deloria, Jr., V., & Wildcat, D.R. (2001). Power and place: Indian education in America. Golden, CO: Fulcrum Resources.

Ogbu, J. U. (1995). Understanding cultural diversity and learning. In J.A. Banks & C.A.M. Banks (Eds.), Handbook of research on multicultural education (pp. 582-593). New York: Macmillan.

Peshkin, A. (1997). Places of memory: Whiteman's schools and Native American communities. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Riesman, D. (1950). The lonely crowd: A study of the changing American character. New Haven: Yale University.

Simard, .J. (1990). White ghosts, red shadows: The reduction of North American Indians. In J.A. Clifton (Ed.), The invented Indian: Cultural fictions and government policies (pp. 333-369). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

Place- and Community-Based Curriculum for High School English Language Learners
NABE News, January/February 2002, Vol. 25, No.3, pp. 23-24.
Jon Reyhner

By the time they reach high school, almost all American Indian and Alaska Native students speak conversational English fluently, though this may be a non-standard dialect. However, many neither read well enough nor have the academic language needed to score at or above national averages on reading and other tests. Because they can't keep up with the expectations of grade level textbooks and mandated standardized and criterion referenced tests, Native students can develop very negative attitudes towards reading and academics by the time they reach high school. Their inability to read at grade level compounds their academic problems because only by reading more can they pick up the academic vocabulary they need to be successful in school.

Furthermore, many Native students do not see their often de-contextualized schoolwork as relevant to their lives, and teachers need to work on that connection to begin to get their students engaged in their assignments. One way to get students to see the relevancy of education is to get them involved in community- and place-based projects. A core idea in constructivist learning theory is that new knowledge must be linked to what students already know for it to be learned. Community- and place-based projects provide such a link. They can involve social, environmental, health, and other issues facing Native communities. Topics for students to research could include diabetes, local water quality, the effects of mining, and the meaning of tribal sovereignty. Or they can, like Foxfire projects, involve students researching their cultural traditions.

In their new book Power and Place: Indian Education in America, Vine Deloria, Jr. and Daniel R. Wildcat call for an education that unifies content rather than presents the "disjointed and emotionless world painted by Western science" (2001, p. 2). The projects described above can provide experiential learning. Students need to work on developing their identity by connecting both to a place physically and understanding their place within their family and community. In addition, based on their research on topics relevant to their lives and their community, students can use process writing techniques that involve peer editing to improve their basic writing skills as they organize and report the information they find from interviews and more traditional library research. The use of interviews can allow those children who have oral Native language fluency to excel, which is important as in the typical English-only classroom environment, the bilingual students often are behind academically because their language skills are not valued and utilized by the standard curriculum.

While constructivist learning theory supports community- and place-based educational projects, behaviorist learning theory does as well. Students with a long history of school failure need to achieve some success to turn their attitudes around. The breadth of knowledge that state mandated tests measure at the high school level is too great for students to rapidly improve, but by getting involved with an in-depth project they can begin to see success. While students need breadth in their curriculum so they can learn about the wider world around them, they also need to study some topics in depth, and it only seems logical to have them start by studying the habitat in which they live .

A new curriculum guide developed to connect children with their environments is Sandra Fox's 266 page Creating Sacred Places for Students in Grades 9-12 published in 2001 by the National Indian School Board Association. This guide is based on four basic ideas:

The guide has background materials and activities for standards-based units on fossil fuel energy, water, health, and care of land and animals, as well as for units on social studies and language arts. Fox provides lists of poetry, short stories, novels, drama, and essays by Indian authors that can be integrated into community- and place-based student projects so students could get the practice reading.

Students can develop units on tribal history such as the Navajo's Long Walk to Fort Sumner, which can include reading historical novels like Scott Odell's Sing Down the Moon. In reading this historical novel as in the following suggested books, students can critically look at and even correct their factual content as described by McCarty and Schafer (1992). Students interested in horses and rodeo could learn more about the National Indian Rodeo Association and could read books like Hal Borland's When the Legends Die (1964) about a Ute boy. Students interested in wilderness survival could research that topic and be encouraged to read Hap Gilliland's Alone in the Wilderness (2001) about a Northern Cheyenne boy spending three months in the Beartooth Wilderness of Montana. Students interested in becoming teachers could learn about state certification requirements and could be encouraged to read autobiographies of teachers, such as Polingaysi Qöyawayma's No Turning Back: A Hopi Indian Woman's Struggle to Live in Two Worlds (1964).

More controversial would be the use of Larry Colton's new book Counting Coup: A True Story of Basketball and Honor on the Little Big Horn about a Crow high school basketball star. It could be used to get students to discuss and write about their personal and community priorities. Less controversial would be to use Lori Arviso Alvord's 1999 autobiography The Scalpel and the Silver Bear, describing the road she took to become the first women Navajo surgeon. It could be used to get students to research what it takes to enter the medical profession and to reflect on the quality of their own education.


A critical problem with many teenagers is an uncertain or even negative identity. Children growing up need to see themselves as part of something larger than themselves, which provides a sense of belonging. Gangs can do this, but they are a poor substitute for more traditional groups. Deloria and Wildcat see education traditionally as "something for the tribe, not for the individual" (p. 84). Place- and community-based projects can allow students together to learn how to improve their environment and give back to the land and community. For example, students who research diabetes, a major Native health problem, can then put together bilingual informational brochures and take part in a community health day. Here, they can teach others about what they learned in order to encourage them to lead a more healthy lifestyle.

In regard to schooling, American Indian and other minority students are often not exposed to the family and community attitudes that go with school success because schools have been very assimilationist, and school success was seen as a "selling out" to white society. Using books and curriculum that deal directly or indirectly with Indian identity can not only help students clarify who they are, it can also get them to become better readers and more academically successful. This seems to be a critical missing component of the standards movement, which focuses on acquiring skills and knowledge and passing tests. This focus on "achievement" at the expense of identity can increase high school dropout rates and in the process of maybe improving the academic quality of a school, produce a new tracking system that pushes many Native students out of school.


Alvord, L.A. (1999). The scalpel and the silver bear. New York: Bantam Books. (For more information about this book read the column on Literacy and School Success in the March/April 2001 NABE News.

Borland, H. (1964). When the legends die. New York: Bantam.

Colton, L. 2000. Counting coup: A true story of basketball and honor on the Little Big Horn. New York: Warner Books.

Deloria, Jr.,Vine, & Wildcat, Daniel R. (2001). Power and place: Indian education in America. Golden, CO: Fulcrum Resources.

Gilliland, H. (2001). Alone in the wilderness. Happy Camp, CA: Naturegraph

Foxfire Fund, Inc.

Fox, S. (2001). Creating sacred places for students in grades 9-12. Polson, MT: National Indian School Board Association. (This is one of 5 K-12 guides available from NISBA, P.O. Box 790, Polson, MT 59860, e-mail

Gilliland, H. (2001). Alone in the wilderness. Happy Camp, CA: Naturegraph.

McCarty, T.L., & Schaffer, Rachel. (1992). Language and literacy development. In J. Reyhner (Ed.), Teaching American Indian students (pp. 115-131). Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.

O'dell, S. (1970). Sing down the moon. Boston: Houghton Miflin.

Qöyawayma, P. 1964). No turning back: A Hopi Indian woman's struggle to live in two worlds. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico.

Identity and Academic Success
NABE News, September/October 2001, Vol. 25, No.1, pp. 18 & 33.
Jon Reyhner

In his keynote speech at NABE's annual meeting in Phoenix this past spring, Jim Cummins emphasized how the "English for the Children" propositions 203 and 227 in Arizona and California reflected a "xenophobic discourse." He sees these propositions as telling students to "leave your language [and culture] outside the schoolhouse door," and declared that teachers still have choices in how they can interact with their students. They can be coercive and assimilative or empowering.

The fast transition to mainstream classrooms that Ron Unz's English-only propositions call for is a recipe for disaster for many language minority students. Cummins reiterated that study after study indicates that it takes at least five years for an ESL student to come close to catching up in academic schoolwork with their monolingual English-speaking peers.

Words With Deep Personal Meaning

Cummins spoke of three foci on meaning, use, and language in the classroom. In regard to meaning he stressed Stephen Krashen's idea of "comprehensible input" and developing students' critical literacy (realizing books don't always contain the truth). In regard to use, he stressed that children need to see themselves as authors, need to create literature and art, and need to talk about social realities. As to language, he declared that "students need to critically analyze the forms and uses of language--such as propaganda, advertisement, and oratory (including the teaching of grammar)."

One suggestion Cummins made was to have students bring a word to class every day, including words from their home language, as a form of show and tell, with all the students learning the words for the day. Both Sylvia Ashton Warner (1963) in her work with young Maori students in New Zealand and Jonathan Kozol (1985) in his work with adult illiteracy make similar suggestions about using words that have deep personal meeting to the learners for beginning reading instruction. A related suggestion involves teachers using their students' names for beginning phonics instruction .

As students break the code and begin to understand what reading is about, they need high interest books that help them explore both their own cultural world and the worlds of other cultures. They need to see quickly that the purpose of learning to read is to read to learn. Students who do not start reading a lot by about third grade will not develop the academic vocabulary found mainly in books that is critical for academic success (Cummins, 2000; Reyhner & Cockrum, 2001; Reyhner, 2001).

Phonics Can Be a Real Challenge

Teachers need to know about the home language and culture of their students. As Dick Littlebear, president of Dull Knife Memorial College, has pointed out, reservation teachers need to "cross the cattle guards" that surround many school compounds to learn about the real challenges their students face. Currently the "best practices approach" is pushing "scientifically proven" phonics methods of teaching reading with little recognition that different languages and dialects do not have the same sound system as Standard English. Teaching Standard English phonics can be extremely confusing to students who sometimes can't even distinguish between some Standard English sounds like p and b because they did not grow up in an environment where they heard that distinction.

There is an idea coming out of Washington and conservative think tanks now that if teachers would just use research-based "best practices," the academic achievement problems of students will be solved. However these "one size fits all" best practices tend to be monocultural and assume that students come to school "ready to learn" in Standard English and ready to assimilate into the dominant culture if they're not there already. In reality, the experiential differences between minority cultures and the dominant culture can kill the best monocultural educational practices.

Bigger Questions Not Addressed

Cummins called on teachers to have a clear idea of the answer to the question "What do we want our children to be?" He placed teachers as mediators between children's past and their future and criticized the narrowing of the curriculum owing to the testing craze and the reading wars between phonics and whole language advocates. Children growing up need to answer the philosophers' questions: "Where did I come from, who am I, and where am I going?"

Finally, I want to return to the issue of student identity that Cummins has repeatedly spoken and written about, including recently in his new book Language, Power and Pedagogy: Bilingual Children in the Crossfire (2000). As John Ogbu (1995) has pointed out, instructional methodology and curriculum are not the only variables in minority student success. Another key factor for academic success is how students, parents, and communities view schools. Are teachers viewed as the "enemy" seeking to suppress indigenous and other minority languages and cultures as was so often the case in the past? Or are they "friends" seeking to build students' Native identities, acquainting students to the wider national world they will spend their lives dealing with, and introducing them to the wider international world our country has to deal with as well?

Education is not neutral, what students read, learn, and do in school can help them build a strong positive identity or they may, through insensitivity and ethnocentrism, destroy cultural and family values and leave students susceptible to the allure of negative peer cultures.


Ashton-Warner, S. (1963). Teacher. New York: Simon & Schuster [Linda Skinner (Choctaw) in "Teaching Through Traditions" in Swisher & Tippeconnic's Next Steps: Research and Practice to Advance Indian Education (1999) writes that this book gave her "valuable insights.... I believe every educator and parent should read this book."]

Cummins, J. (2000). Language, power and pedagogy: Bilingual children in the crossfire. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Kozol, J. (1985). Illiterate America. Garden City, NY: Anchor/Doubleday.

Ogbu, J. U. (1995). Understanding cultural diversity and learning. In J.A. Banks & C.A.M. Banks (Eds.), Handbook of research on multicultural education (pp. 582-593). New York: Macmillan.

Reyhner, J. (2001). Literacy and school success. NABE News, 24(4), 18-19.

Reyhner, J., & Cockrum, W. (2001). Reading, language, culture, and ethnic minority students. In P. R. Schmidt & P. B. Mosenthal (Eds.), Reconceptualizing literacy in the new age of pluralism and multiculturalism. Greenwich, CN: Information Age.

Literacy and School Success
NABE News, March/April 2001, Vol. 24, No. 4, pp. 18-19.
Jon Reyhner

In her 1999 autobiography the first Navajo female surgeon Lori Arviso Alvord wrote of her experiences at Crownpoint High School in the Navajo Nation:

I made good grades in high school, but I had received a very marginal education. I had a few good teachers, but teachers were difficult to recruit to our schools and they often didn't stay long. Funding was inadequate. I spent many hours in classrooms where, I now see, very little was being taught. (pp. 25-26)
Upon graduation, she was encouraged by a friend to apply to Dartmouth, an "Ivy League" college in New Hampshire.

However, her education at Crownpoint left her "totally unprepared for the physical and life sciences. After receiving the only D of my entire life in calculus, I retreated from the sciences altogether" (p. 30). What saved her at Dartmouth was her "strong reading background." She writes, "I read my way through the tiny local library and the vans that came to our community from the Books on Wheels program," encouraged by her parents "to read and dream" (p. 9). She could even get out of chores by reading.

She majored in the social sciences and graduated from Dartmouth in 1979. Not being able to get a job in Crownpoint, she went to Albuquerque where she was offered two jobs, one as a social worker and another paying much less as a medical research assistant at the University of New Mexico. She took the lower paying job and became increasingly interested in medicine, taking the math and science classes she had avoided at Dartmouth at the University of New Mexico with the encouragement of her supervisor, which led her to being accepted by Stanford University's medical school.

One should not underestimate Dr. Alvord's accomplishments. Only four percent of the practicing surgeons in the United States are women, and only a few of those women are American Indians. While she got into medical school partly because of affirmative action, this meant that she was constantly tested. She held herself to a higher standard lest "my being a surgeon would be attributed to quota filling, not the result of hard work and my own merit" (p. 50).

Some History

Dr. Alvord's experiences support the idea that students who learn to read well do well in school. However, her experiences of having to join what Frank Smith (1988) calls the "Literacy Club" almost in spite of her schooling is a longstanding problem. The substandard education that Dr. Alvord received in the public schools at Crownpoint, New Mexico is nothing new. Poor instructional practices were compounded throughout most of the history of American Indian education by the use of English-Only instructional practices. Luther Standing Bear (1928), who became a teacher at the end of the nineteenth century wrote,

The Indian children should have been taught how to translate the Sioux tongue into English properly; but the English teachers only taught them the English language, like a bunch of parrots. While they could read all the words placed before them, they did not know the proper use of them; their meaning was a puzzle. (p. 239)
Students were submersed in English, when, in fact, the written versions of American Indian languages were easier to learn to read because they were developed with a one-to-one sound symbol relationship, unlike English.

Polingaysi Qöyawayma, a Hopi teacher, reported in the 1930s the same experiences as Standing Bear. When she became a first grade teacher, she was nervous, but she felt that she at least knew the language her students spoke. However, her supervisors soon reminded her that she was forbidden under the government's English-Only policy to speak Hopi to her students. In her mind she questioned her supervisors' directives and the mainstream English curriculum she was required to teach. In defiance of her supervisors Qöyawayma chose teaching material from the experiential background of her students:

What do these white-man stories mean to a Hopi child? What is a "choo-choo" to these little ones who have never seen a train? No! I will not begin with the outside world of which they have no knowledge. I shall begin with the familiar. The everyday things. The things of home and family. (125)
She substituted familiar Hopi legends, songs and stories for Little Red Riding Hood and other European tales.

The Question of When?

One of the reasons for the recent upsurge in English-Only popular opinion is the widespread perception that bilingual education programs do not teach English and that minority students "languish" in them. This perception was loudly expressed in the passages of Proposition 227 in California and 203 in Arizona. However, Jim Cummins, Stephen Krashen, and other prominent supporters of bilingual education continue to emphasize the need to introduce English early-on in bilingual programs while at the same time developing literacy in the children's home languages whenever possible.

Cummins (2000) in his new book Language, Power and Pedagogy rebuts his critics and clarifies his positions on the use of home and school languages in bilingual programs. He questions a "rigid" separation of languages in bilingual programs, "a near-exclusive emphasis" on the home language in the early grades, and the idea that literacy skills can transfer automatically from the home language to English (pp. 20-21).

Cummins especially has doubts about "delaying the instruction of English literacy for a considerable period" (p. 176). In regard to the well-known threshold and interdependency hypothesis he writes that "Neither hypothesis says anything about the appropriate language to begin reading instruction within a bilingual program nor about when reading instruction in the majority language should be introduced" (p. 176, emphasis in original). He writes,

I believe, and have strongly argued, that a bilingual program should be fully bilingual with a strong English language arts (reading and writing) program together with a strong L1 language arts program (pp. 24-25, emphasis in original).
Cummins sees a special problem with delaying the introduction of English in indigenous language programs because of the lack of indigenous language literature for older students (p. 22).

Cummins also defends his well known BICS/CALP categorization. Based on the research of Douglas Biber, David Corson,and others, he finds that Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS) are made up largely of "Anglo-Saxon-based lexicon" while the vocabulary of Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP) is largely of "Graeco-Latin" origin, which is mainly found in books. "Graeco-Latin words tend to be three or four syllables long, whereas the everyday high frequency words of the Anglo-Saxon lexicon tend to be one or two syllables in length" (p. 78). Cummins writes,

An obvious implication of these data is that if second language learners are to catch up academically to native-speakers they must engage in extensive reading of written text because academic language is reliability to be found only in written text. The research on reading achievement also suggests, however, that in addition to large amounts of time for actual text reading, it is also important for student to have ample opportunities to talk to each other and to a teacher about their responses to reading . Talking about the text in a collaborative context ensures that higher order thinking processes (e.g. analysis, evaluation, synthesis) engage with academic language in deepening students' comprehension of the text. (p. 79)
Whole language advocates have criticized some of Cummins work and tend to oppose any kind of standardized and criterion referenced tests, advocating in their place forms of authentic assessment. However, Cummins points out that in studies that utilize both types of assessment, there are "extremely strong correlations between communicative [often termed "authentic"] assessments of reading and writing and discrete point measures," such as standardized and criterion referenced test scores (p. 137). These paper and pencil tests tend to measure students' academic vocabulary.

In fact, Cummins, while recognizing their misuse, states that "to the extent that standardized reading tests mirror the context-reduced demands of schooling and many real-life reading performances (e.g. reading and completing various forms), they can be considered potentially appropriate despite the fact they lack a task-based communicative orientation" (p. 137).

Learning to Ready by Reading

While it is too early to tell, there is some indication that President George W. Bush's educational initiatives will focus on phonics reading instruction. While, as Cummins points out, some direct instruction in reading and writing is a good thing, the development of a strong cultural identity is also important. It is not just a question of teaching children to read, it is also critical that they perceive themselves as readers without seeing this as a "selling out" of their heritage and that they get lots of practice reading material that they find interesting.

I want to conclude with a quote from Stephen Krashen's The Power ofReading: Insights from the Research, which I quoted in this column on September 15, 1998 and a quote from a recent chapter on reading that I co-authored. Krashen writes,

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. (1993, p. 84)
Reyhner and Cockrum (in press) conclude, Children who come from homes, whether they are ethnic minority children or not, where they are not read to extensively need early direct instruction in what reading is all about, including phonics; but they also need to be immersed in a friendly literacy environment as soon as possible in school that emphasizes how reading can satisfy their curiosity about things they are interested in, whether that be dinosaurs, whales, horses, race cars, motorcycles, basketball, or whatever, and can provide pleasure as well.

However, beyond playing on the immediate interests of children to get them to read, the best books from all cultures including picture books help teach children what it means to be a human being in the same manner of traditional stories from oral cultures. 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 on a literature-based reading program to provide students with narrative guideposts, both oral and written, that will provide direction for today's youth.



Alvord, Lori Arviso. (1999). The scalpel and the silver bear. New York: Bantam Books.

Cummins, Jim. (2000). Language, power and pedagogy: Bilingual children in the crossfire. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Krashen, Stephen. (1993). The power of reading: Insights from the research. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited.

Qöyawayma, Polingaysi (Elizabeth Q. White). 1964). No turning back: A Hopi Indian woman's struggle to live in two worlds. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Reyhner, Jon. (1998). The importance of reading: Part 1. NABE News, 22(1), 11-12.

Reyhner, Jon, & Cockrum, Ward. (in press). Reading, Language, Culture, and Ethnic Minority StudentsP. Mosenthal & Patricia Schmidt (Eds.) Reconceptualizing literacy in the new age of pluralism and multicutluralism. Greenwich, CN: Information Age Publishing.

Smith, Frank. (1988). Joining the literacy club: Further essays into education. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Standing Bear, Luther. (1928). My people the Sioux (Edited by E.A. Brininstool). Boston: Houghton Miflin.

Hard Truths, Deep Structure, and Bilingual Education
NABE News, January/February 2001, Vol. 24, No. 3, pp. 26 & 46.
Jon Reyhner

After some thirty years of bilingual education, one would think that it would be more firmly established than is indicated by the passage of Proposition 203 in Arizona this past November, Proposition 227 in California in 1998, and similar efforts to abolish it elsewhere. This is especially true because in 1968 the Bilingual Education Act passed through Congress under its unanimous consent provisions where a single member could have stopped it.

Despite its current troubles, the research on school reforms indicates that bilingual education is doing better than most reforms. In her book Hard Truths: Uncovering the Deep Structure of Schooling, Barbara Benham Tye (2000) reviews the extensive research on school reforms that finds the vast majority of them spring quickly to life and quickly die out within ten years or less.

Tye's book helps explain the continued resistance to bilingual education and many other reforms because they threaten the "deep structure" of established practices and institutionalized inequality in American schools. In addition, the "soft" nature of much federal and other grant funding, including much bilingual funding, has led many bilingual and other innovative programs to falter and die with the inevitable withdrawal of federal financial support.

Hard Truths

To an extent, bilingual education was oversold back in 1968 as a panacea to deep rooted social and economic problems causing the low academic achievement of many minority students, just as the anti-bilingual education, English immersion initiatives are being oversold as quick fixes today. Additionally, in its early days, and to a degree even today, bilingual education was handicapped by a lack of curriculum materials (especially for students speaking American Indian languages) and trained professionals to implement it, including teachers, administrators, and teacher trainers.

Furthermore, the ill-fated Lau Remedies, that forced reluctant school districts to adopt bilingual education, helped coalesce the opposing forces and further aggravated the shortage of trained personnel (Crawford, 2000). Even worse, a minute fraction of bilingual programs largely excluded English from their curriculum, and these became the English-only movement's "poster children."

Educational reforms that do survive

When one examines the power structure in American communities that influence school board and school administration decisions, it is interesting to see how a few programs, not necessarily complementary, prosper and grow while most others die or are constantly threatened. For example, special education programs survive and grow as handicapped students are mainstreamed into regular classrooms, while at the same time gifted and talented programs, that pull students out of these same regular classrooms, also find strong support.

I see the explanation of the relative success of these seemingly contradictory efforts to help exceptional students as one of power. Middle class and upper class parents have handicapped children, and they want the best for them, so they insist on them not being segregated and being treated better. At the same time they often provide a rich literacy environment for their "normal" children so that they sometimes even know how to read when they reach school age. Parents want the best for these "gifted" children as well and insist on special programs for them. These middle and upper class parents have the political power to get what they want from schools whereas language minority parents lack political power.

In the world of Realpolitik, the question is how can bilingual education advocates tap into the power structure of their communities to create greater support for programs that historically have served relatively powerless low-income immigrant and other minority families. One answer has been two-way/dual-language programs that mix "gifted" English-speaking children in the same classroom with low-income non-English speaking children. Even the most vocal opponents of bilingual education have nice things to say about two-way programs (Cummins, 2000).

I say "gifted English-speaking children" because it is the same parents that give their children a rich literacy environment at home who will most likely be the ones to realize the value placed on second languages in universities and want their children to be in dual language programs. Recently Arizona's conservative Goldwater Institute criticized the state universities for cutting back on "foreign language" graduation requirements. Ironically, I have not heard that it opposed Proposition 203.

Changing the "Deep Structure"

One weakness of bilingual education is the failure to build widespread strong grassroots support for it even among the groups it serves (Crawford 2000). Advocates of bilingual education cannot afford to wait until Ron Unz comes to their state to start a major campaign to advertise good bilingual programs and develop community support. In addition, any attempts to force bilingual education on unwilling parents only strengthen the possibility that it will be denied to parents that want it.

In the words of Lani Guinier (1994) and others, bilingual education proponents through the initiative process are being subjected to democracy's "tyranny of the majority." For example, American Indians, less than one percent of the nation's population, are defenseless in the face of the majority unless they present a united front and, in addition, link arms with other minorities and actively recruit the support of mainstream Americans.

One way to gain wide support, I think, is to build on the rhetoric of the defining American political documents in the same manner as was done by the Civil Rights movement. Starting with the Declaration of Independence, the definitions of freedom, liberty, and free speech in those documents needs logically to be broadened to include group as well as individual rights to heritage languages and cultures. To paraphrase what I wrote in this column in 1996:

Government suppression of minority languages and cultures violates the liberty of American Indian, Latino, and other language minority citizens to be who they want to be. There are different forms of slavery, and of being a subject rather than a citizen. One form of slavery in this country ended with the Civil War, but there is another form of slavery that says "you will be like us," whether you like it or not. This form of forced conformity is still being imposed on ethnic minorities in the United States through assimilationist, English-only schooling to the detriment of full and equal citizenship.
We have lost some battles in the war for bilingual education and better education for language minority children, but the struggle goes on. The day after Proposition 203 passed, I attended a conference sponsored by the Navajo Nation Learn in Beauty Project. Already, Navajo leaders were planning strategy, which may well include civil disobedience, for overcoming this latest blow to their children's future.


Crawford, James. (2000). Language Politics in the United States: The Paradox of Bilingual Education. In Carlos J. Ovando & Peter McLaren (Eds.), The Politics of Multiculturalism and Bilingual Education: Students and Teachers Caught in the Cross Fire (pp. 107-125). Boston: McGraw Hill.

Cummins, Jim. (2000). Beyond Adversarial Discourse: Searching for Common Ground in the Education of Bilingual Students. In Carlos J. Ovando & Peter McLaren (Eds.), The Politics of Multiculturalism and Bilingual Education: Students and Teachers Caught in the Cross Fire (pp. 127- 147). Boston: McGraw Hill.

Guinier, Lani. (1994). The Tyranny of the Majority: Fundamental Fairness in Representative Democracy. New York: Free Press.

Reyhner, Jon. (1996). Citizen or Subject: Part II. NABE News, 19(8).

Tye, Barbara Benham. (2000). Hard Truths: Uncovering the Deep Structure of Schooling. New York: Teachers College Press.

Indigenous Community-Based Education
NABE News, November/December 2000, Vol. 24, No. 2, p. 23.
Jon Reyhner

Indigenous Community-Based Education (Multilingual Matters, 1999) is a 180 page collection of ten essays edited by Stephen May of the University of Bristol. These essays describe efforts by indigenous peoples in North and South America, Australian, New Zealand, and Europe to end assimilationist schooling that denies the value of indigenous languages and cultures. Schooling for indigenous peoples has historically tended to be imposed imperialism designed either to assimilate indigenous people into an alien dominant culture and/or to keep them in a second-class status.

The ten essays collected by May focus on how indigenous peoples worldwide are working to take control schools in their communities so that in the words of the first contributor, David Corson, indigenous learners can "become active participants in shaping their own education" (Corson: 10). Corson cites the influence of Paulo Freire in regard to adult indigenous education that saw "literacy work as a way of giving voice to the oppressed… to talk about 'generative themes' that they chose themselves from their own experiences," giving "the learners more control over their own curriculum" (1999:10).

May in the third essay discusses the differences between nation state political democracy and what Joshua Fishman has termed "cultural democracy." May writes "if there has been a point of greatest resistance to the recognition of separate minority rights and entitlements, it has probably been in the area of language and culture" because a common language and culture has been central to political nationalism (1999: 48).

May points to the "phenomenal success" of the Maori "language nests" in New Zealand as a model for indigenous community-based education. This grass roots effort has expanded over the last two decades from its pre-school base through elementary and secondary education into Maori language university-level teacher-education programs.

Arohia Durie of the Department of Maori and Multicultural Education of Massey University College of Education in the fourth essay writes of how Maori efforts have changed education from a " subordinating " to an "empowering" process, and she describes assimilationist education as education for "cultural surrender." Jon Todal in the eighth essay describes how some of the idea for a Sami language preschool in Norway came from Welsh language activists.

Two U.S. efforts are described in the fifth and sixth essays. Teresa L. McCarty and Lucille J. Watahomigie describe efforts by Navajos at Rough Rock and Rock Point, Hualapais at Peach Springs, Native Alaskan teacher leaders, Karuks in Northern California, and Native Hawaiians. The Hawaiian efforts then receive more in depth treatment by William H. Wilson of the College of Hawaiian Language of the University of Hawai'i at Hilo in his essay "The Sociopolitical Context of Establishing Hawaiian-medium Education." Hawaiian language activists give credit to the pioneering efforts of the Maori in leading the way to indigenous community-based education.

May's book is an important addition to the literature on indigenous education. I think it is especially important because its global viewpoint shows how particular indigenous education efforts have benefited from the ideas and examples of other indigenous groups, sometimes thousands of miles away. Small, often isolated, groups of indigenous peoples are at a disadvantage when attempting to wrest control of educational institutions from populous dominant groups. However, when these indigenous groups learn from each other and work together, their cooperation can give them the strength needed to persevere in their quest for culturally and linguistically appropriate education for their children.

English for the Children--Arizona
NABE News, September/October 2000, Vol. 24, No. 1, pp. 15 & 35.
Jon Reyhner

Signatures were gathered in Arizona to put an initiative similar to California's Proposition 227 on the November 2000 ballot (Proposition 203). While the initiative is mainly a misguided effort directed at Arizona's Hispanic population, I would like to discuss its potential impact on Arizona's American Indian population.

As in California, Arizona's version of 227 would bring back English Only instruction, eliminate parental and local choice, dismantle successful bilingual programs, and aggravate the current loss of American Indian languages. If there was a potential for increased student achievement as a result of English Only, one might be able to argue for it despite the negative effects it will have on Indian communities struggling to maintain their languages and cultures. However, there is over a century of experience with English Only Indian education that indicates there is little likelihood that it will raise achievement scores on the long term.

The United States Commissioner of Indian Affairs demanded English Only instruction for all Indian students in the 1880s under penalty of law. But you don't have to go back that many years to see what in all likelihood will be the results of Arizona passing a version of Proposition 227.

I can remember back to 1973 when my wife was reprimanded on her teacher's evaluation for violating a then current Arizona English Only law for using Navajo words with her kindergarten students, some of whom came into her Chinle Public School classroom as monolingual Navajo speakers. I and a few other teachers were then proposing the novel idea of bilingual education because our students were on average not succeeding in our English Only classrooms compared to their non-Indian age-mates.

One might contend that English as a Second Language (ESL) teaching methodologies have now become so much better that things will be different if we go back to English Only instruction. But again, Indian schools at the end of the nineteenth century schools were using "sand tables" and Pestalozzi's "object method" to provide Indian students with "comprehensible input" in English.

The use of sand tables and ESL teaching techniques continued into the 1930s. Nancy Heger, a teacher at Eastern Navajo School in Crownpoint, New Mexico, in a 1932 issue of Progressive Education wrote that the school lunch was a place to start teaching English, with students learning names for utensils and different kinds of food. She also recommended games to teach vocabulary and noted how,

The sand table provides another center of never-failing interest an opportunity for vocabulary building. Here are constructed houses such as we live in, barns, schoolhouse, sidewalks, windmill, stores, chicken houses, pens, fences, troughs, trees, tanks, church, garages, trucks, cars­all illustrative of the school and agency or the home community.

Usually, the first sand-table scene consists of the school village.

In the same journal Helen Lawhead, a first grade teacher at the Theodore Roosevelt Boarding School at Fort Apache, Arizona, noted that her students should not be expected to learn to read English without first developing some oral English vocabulary. Students would often read aloud well yet not comprehend what they were reading. She declared that "The child's own experiences should form the basis of his reading materials." She wanted reading material with "simple sentences" and "plenty of action." Her students would make original drawing for their favorite stories and dramatize scenes from them. She also used a sand table to "make the story."

Despite years of English Only instruction, sometimes using model ESL instruction, Indian students remained seriously behind their non-Indian age-mates. This achievement deficit continues today. If one looks the Arizona test scores, American Indians have, on average, some of the lowest scores in the state. But most of these students have received little or no bilingual education, so one cannot blame the low test scores on bilingual education.

Cultural assimilation is the lurking goal of English Only instruction, but research by University of Utah professor Donna Deyhle and others have found that students who maintain a "traditional" Indian orientation do relatively well in school. Assimilation today can mean picking up the popular culture transmitted by the mass media and getting involved in a host of antisocial activities such as young gangs, a new problem in many Indian communities.

When Wayne Holm, who now works for the Navajo Tribe's Division of Education, started examining how to improve student achievement at Rock Point Community School, he first tried improving ESL instruction. But in the 1960s he found that when state-of-the-art ESL instruction was made a part of bilingual education that the students learned more.

The Navajo Tribal Council unanimously passed a resolution on July 20, 1999:

Strongly opposing the proposed Arizona Initiative "English Language Education for Children in Public Schools" and directing the Education Committee and the Division of Diné [Navajo] Education to inform and educate Navajo schools, parents, and voters of the content and consequences of this initiative.
Most voters have little knowledge about bilingual education beyond hearing a few anecdotal horror stories. It is imperative that an education campaign be started to explain bilingual education to the public, and it is also imperative that we all continue to work to improve the quality of bilingual programs so that, in the words of Stephen Krashen, they are all "well designed." Otherwise, the educational progress made in the last three decades will be lost, and bilingual education will be again pioneered some time in the future after English Only again has failed.

Note: For more about the history of teaching English to American Indians go to my paper on Teaching English to American Indians, which includes a 1903 photo of a sand table. For a description of a current model Navajo/English bilingual education program read Mike Fillerup's Racing Against Time: A Report on the Leupp Navajo Immersion Project.

Culturally Responsive Math and Science Education for Native Students
NABE News May 1, 2000, Vol. 23, No. 6, pp. 10-11.
Jon Reyhner

WestEd (formally Far West Laboratory for Educational Research and Development) published in 1995 a 52 page monograph by Sharon Nelson-Barber and Elise Trumbull Estrin titled Culturally Responsive Mathematics and Science Education for Native Students. This interesting publication has eight sections: the context of national reforms, challenges to a standard of equity, culture-based variations in ways of knowing, assumptions regarding the nature of math and science, factoring cultural variation into school reform, seeking inclusion of Native values, final observations and recommendations, and references.

The authors begin with a "constuctivist view of learners, one that recognizes students as active meaning-makers" that is "complemented with a sociocultural perspective that recognizes the importance of social and cultural systems and their associated values and expectations on students' learning" (p. 11). The authors cite several examples of sociocultural difference between traditional cultures and America's modern school culture.

Sociocultural Differences

One example of sociocultural difference is that children raised in an environment with many physical hazards, such as dangerous animals and/or harsh weather, are not taught "discovery learning" because it is too dangerous. Children for their own safety are taught to obey elders who know the dangers and, and, in the words of Terry Tafoya, to "watch and listen and wait, and the answer will come to you" (as quoted on p. 14). A second example of difference is that with traditional learning in an oral storytelling culture "children are expected to make their own sense of story" rather than to ask questions about the story or to be told what the story means. A third example is about how different cultures can categorize things differently. Given objects from four categories: food, clothing, tools, and cooking utensils, the respondents from a non-mainstream culture made groupings like a knife with an orange because a knife is used to cut up an orange.

Just as ways of learning can differ from culture to culture. Discipline can be handled differently as well. For example adults might ignore children's behavior according to Scollon and Scollon to "ward off threats to their authority" that could force them into continued conflict with a child (as quoted on p. 15). Just as learning and behavior are not culture-free, so science and mathematics are not culture free. Europeans have taken knowledge accumulated from around the world without giving credit to the discoverers. According to the authors "western thinking, in general, tends toward decontextualizing, depersonalizing, and dehumanizing experience and natural phenomena" (p. 17). Western thought "objectifies" reality rather than emphasizing process. One can see that in the current "Standards Movement" that calls for outcome based assessment and tends to ignore whether the classroom processes needed to achieve those outcomes are humanistic. People jump onto the direct instruction bandwagon as the most direct route to achieve outcomes without considering the effects of direct instruction on classroom climate and student motivation.

Recommended Practice

The authors discuss using ethnomathematics and ethnoscience approaches, which relate math and science to culture. These approaches are seen by some educators "as the sources of real-world connections that will make classroom theories and procedures meaningful" (p. 25). A chemistry teacher told me how he rethought the way he taught chemistry when one of his best Navajo students asked him "Why are we learning chemistry?" This teacher found by moving from a textbook-based science curriculum to a community based science curriculum that the students found relevance in what they were learning--something that is unlikely if he had answered this student by saying it was to pass the state's high school graduation requirements. As Nelson-Barber and Estrin state, "Learning about nature from books can seem a poor substitute for the real thing" (p. 22).

Nelson-Barber and Estrin suggest that teachers start with "students' lived experiences" and move first to ethno-mathematical knowledge and intuitive understanding, then to technical symbolic representation, and finally to axiomatic knowledge with the idea these can be related back to the students' lived experiences (see their Figure 2 on p. 30). They further state "In our vision of the classroom, students would learn how to represent and solve problems and to conduct investigations related to their own interests and past experiences, with one goal being to learn the formalized language and procedures of academic mathematics and science as well" (p. 32). This fits with constructivist learning theory that speaks to students' needing to link new knowledge to their existing knowledge and experience base.

However, in their conclusion the authors warn that the connection between math, science, and culture can be trivialized and that one of the key functions of teachers is to awaken students interest and curiosity in a subject and thus motivate them to want to learn the subject matter at hand. The authors conclude "for Native people who are sorely underrepresented in fields dependent on mathematics and science, there is a tremendous need for teachers who will enlist them to become explorers, who creatively develop their understanding, as well as for teachers who create connections among science, mathematics, technology and society (p. 41). The monograph concludes with a list of 13 excellent "Assumptions and Principles for Improving Pedagogy" and a list of references.

Indigenous Language Use and Change in the Americas
NABE News March 15, 2000, Vol. 23, No. 5.
Jon Reyhner

There has been an upsurge of interest in endangered indigenous languages in the last few years with the result that several journals have devoted special issues to the topic. One of the best is issue 132 of the International Journal of the Sociology of Language (1998) edited by Teresa L. McCarty and Ofelia Zepeda of the University of Arizona.

This 208 page volume on "Indigenous Language Use and Change in the Americas" combines articles by both indigenous language scholars and activists. Part 1 on indigenous languages in the USA has 13 articles, and Part II on indigenous languages in Mexico and Latin America has six articles.

Michael Krauss, director of the Alaska Native Language Center, notes in his paper on "The condition of Native North American languages" that of about 175 indigenous languages still spoken in the United States only 11% are still spoken by young children. Languages not spoken by young children are, of course, dying. When one thinks of how these languages are considered gifts from the Creator, as do many language activists, one must consider what other aspects of indigenous cultures are being lost as fewer and fewer people speak them.

Several of the papers approach the issue of why it is important not to let indigenous languages die out. I find that these languages are tied to ways of life that support healthy living in an age where many negative social forces are impacting indigenous children, including gangs, drugs, and alcohol.

William H. Wilson of the University of Hawai'i at Hilo notes in his paper that "What is to the benefit of this Hawaiian language lies with us. . . . It is said, 'Help one another, live together, and be happy together'" (p. 118). Jane Hill of the University of Arizona notes that Mexicano (Nahuatl), an indigenous language of Mexico, is not seen by speakers as necessarily embodied in individual words "but in its characteristic discourses of respect and hospitality" (p. 181).

Hualapai language activist Lucille Watahomigie in her paper on "The native language is a gift" notes that head start programs and schools have played a role in indigenous language loss by emphasizing national languages, English in the USA and Spanish in most of Latin America. Schools have made some effort to teaching indigenous languages through bilingual education programs. These programs often had Indian teachers teaching their languages to students who only learned the names of animals, colors, etc. These same teachers, Krauss notes, would go home and speak English to their own children.

This was partly a result of the fact, as Zepeda reports for her Tohono O'odham Nation, that bilingual programs were put in place before staff was trained. Krauss emphasizes the need for training in immersion teaching methods so students will produce rather than reproduce language (See e.g., the "Immersion Education" column in the 8/1/98 issue of NABE News.

Acoma Pueblo language activist Christine Sims describes in her article "Community-based efforts to preserve native languages" how relatively unsuccessful university- and school-centered efforts in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s in Northern California shifted to community-based efforts in the 1990s.

The recommendation of Mary Linn, Marcellino Berardo and Akira Yamamoto of the University of Kansas in their article "Creating language teams in Oklahoma Native American communities" provide excellent advise to any community language activists interested in keeping their language alive:

  1. "A few dedicated individuals [that form a language team] are more important than a hundred interested people"
  2. "Each member of the language team should visit native speakers and attempt to bring them into the team."
  3. Get some basic supplies, including a "good tape recorder and tapes, butcher paper, and markers."
  4. Find a place to meet.
  5. Establish ground rules, including speaking the language as much as possible. "Insist that learning vocabulary words in isolation is not the same as learning the language. It is important to use the language to communicate meaning in context as much as possible."
  6. "Set aside time for reviewing transcripts, preliminary analyses, and general discussion. In addition to speaking the language, talking about it is both enjoyable and an excellent learning and teaching experience for team members."
  7. "Do things together as a team of speakers, learners, teachers, and linguists." (pp. 76-77)
Furthermore, Hill encourages bilingual native speakers to "behave like monolinguals" and to not speak the dominant language so that their family members will learn and keep their heritage language alive.

While community-based efforts led by dedicated and committed local language activists are found at the heart of any successful language revitalization effort, that is not to say that university and school efforts are of no use. In fact, once community-based efforts start to show results, native language speaking children need to be accommodated in the schools and universities or else the previous pattern of school failure and forced assimilation will be repeated.

In New Zealand and Hawaii very successful community-based immersion programs have led to a call for immersion classes in the schools, which lead directly to the need for university level teacher training programs to staff the new immersion classrooms. William Wilson of the University of Hawaii at Hilo reports in his article "Life is found in the Hawaiian language" that 3,000 people are now studying Hawaiian in community programs and 4,000 college and high school students are studying Hawaiian as a second language.

The successes in New Zealand and Hawaii are yet to be duplicated in the continental United States where language revitalization efforts are still mostly in an infant stage. Publications like "Indigenous Language Use and Change in the Americas" provide valuable guidance to anyone wishing to help these efforts reach maturity. A list of the recent special journal issues on indigenous language revitalization, including a list of all the articles in the issue reviewed here, can be found on the internet in my article on "Selected Resources on Native American Language Renewal".

Return to NABE Contents Page

Go to Home Page
Copyright © 2009, College of Education, Northern Arizona University