By Pete Conrad of the National Tutoring Association.
Many scholarly and literary works have been written regarding the lack of culturally relevant curricula materials in our school systems and the pedagogical disconnect between our school systems and the American Indian community.
Usually produced by a core group of empathetic educators, these documents continue to regurgitate and recycle the words of the scholars, bureaucrats, and Natives, whose pleas to amend the failed assimilationist techniques and policies of the past, have lingered for far too long into the twenty-first century.
Time and again, these antiquated practices have failed our Indigenous peoples. This paper brings many of those core voices together as a means of communicating the ways in which educators can learn more about their American Indian students, how to research and prepare a curriculum for these students, and best practices to guide them in teaching American Indian students. My research has proven that American Indian students are ideally suited for the tutor and small group classroom settings; teachers that find themselves with a limited number of American Indian students in their classrooms, as well as the reservation teacher, will find this research important to their continued success, in general.
American Indian education has its roots buried deeply within American educational tradition. Hale describes the education of a young Indian student, “Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck was an Algonquian [Wampanoag] Indian who graduated from Harvard in 1665. Cheeshahteaumuck was a brilliant student who was proficient in English, Latin, and Greek as well as his own native language” (Native American Education: A Reference Handbook 79). This account may be the first attempt at
American Indian assimilation; however, it proves with unequivocal doubt that the American Indian has always possessed intelligence equal to any other member of our Eurocentric society.
It was not until 1928, when the Meriam Report was published, that the plight of the American Indian assimilation strategy was revealed as a failure of United States policy. In a document named The Problem of Indian Administration, with a survey team led by Lewis Meriam, the condition of the American Indian was described with regards to health, living and economic conditions, as well as education. Hale described that the Meriam “report advised… to abandon assimilation (Americanization) as a primary goal of education. Schools needed to focus on a broader curriculum, better school facilities, and more qualified teachers” (27).
Nearly one hundred years later a mechanical debate continues to provide a maelstrom of confusion as to how school systems can deliver a culturally relevant curriculum and varied learning style pedagogy into mainstream classroom instruction. Educators of American Indian students must alter their expectations to focus on new beginnings and not on hyper-stereotypical endings.
Teachers must accept that American Indian students may be unlike other students in their classrooms, and as such, teachers should utilize alternative curricula delivery methods as a means to provide American Indian students with an optimal learning experience. When educators become the facilitators for American Indian culturally relevant pedagogy and andragogy, a corollary achievement in the students’ academia becomes a means to the beginning of a lifetime of positive learning experiences.
As well, the reciprocity gained by the empathetic educator becomes clear, as teacher becomes a student of American Indian culture, steeped within their deep history, culture, and language, which, ultimately, is our authentic American history.
About the Author: Pete Conrad is the Communications Chair and Board Member for the National Tutoring Association. He is currently writing his fifth book and lives in St. Petersburg, Florida.