ERIC Identifier: ED400146
Publication Date: 1996-10-00
Author: Almeida, Deirdre A.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Rural Education and Small Schools Charleston WV.
Countering Prejudice against American Indians and Alaska
Natives through Antibias Curriculum and Instruction. ERIC Digest.
Throughout the 1990s, forward-looking educators have continued to call for
major changes in U.S. schools, including changes that celebrate--rather than
denigrate--the diversity in American culture and language usage (Macedo, 1994).
One result of this important reform movement has been the development of an
antibias perspective in curriculum and instruction. Teaching from an antibias
perspective means introducing students to a working concept of diversity that
challenges social stereotypes and discrimination. Antibias teaching goes beyond
traditional multicultural education and gives students tools for identifying and
counteracting the hurtful impact of bias on themselves and their peers
This Digest describes current inadequacies in teaching about Native
Americans--even when teachers are making an effort to portray American Indians
and Alaska Natives respectfully--and suggests ways to avoid common pitfalls. The
Digest provides guidelines for detecting anti-Indian bias in the curriculum and
offers a brief list of Native American-controlled publications and resources.
CURRENT TEACHING ABOUT NATIVE AMERICANS
Three obstacles to
providing better instruction about American Indians and Alaska Natives are (1)
lack of training provided by teacher-training programs, (2) ongoing racist
portrayals of Native Americans in the larger society, and (3) difficulties in
locating sources of trustworthy materials.
Non-Native educators, influenced by biased portrayals of American Indians in
their own schooling and in the media, often view Native Americans as exotic,
quaint, and even mythological. Unfortunately, too many teacher-training programs
still do not include extensive study and research on Native Americans. At best,
educators may have heard a lecture on developing instructional activities about
Native Americans as part of a multicultural education workshop, or they may have
briefly researched Native Americans as part of an anthropology course. Rarely is
there the opportunity in college for a prospective educator to take a course
focused on Native Americans taught by a Native American faculty member. The
result is limited and often inaccurate knowledge on the part of teachers
concerning American Indians and Alaska Natives. This compromised experience then
gets handed down to the next generation.
Typically, when teaching about Native Americans, teachers favor two
approaches in developing their lessons. The first is the "dead-and-buried
culture approach," which portrays Native Americans as being extinct. Lessons
tend to present information in the past tense, "Indians lived in tipis, they
grew corn and hunted buffalo, they were very athletic, they lived in harmony
with the land," and so forth. Second is the "tourist approach," where students
"visit" a different culture. Just like a vacationing tourist, they experience
only the unusual or exotic components of Native American cultures. Neither
approach provides non-Native students the tools they need to comfortably
interact with American Indians and Alaska Natives. Instead, they teach
simplistic generalizations about other peoples and lead to stereotyping, rather
than to understanding (Derman-Sparks, 1993-94). Native American stereotypes are
prevalent throughout mainstream society and are a key component of contemporary
racism. Teachers and students are exposed to this racist stereotyping, often
without being aware it is happening. Television and movies still tend to portray
Native Americans only as historic figures, perpetuating false--often
romanticized--images among non-Natives. Sporting events, with professional
teams' Indian mascots, also contribute to the trivializing of Native American
Most people are not inclined to critically analyze these images of American
Indians and Alaska Natives. Many young people accept as truth what they see on
movie and television screens. Protecting children from racism is every bit as
important as protecting them from dangerous chemicals; poison is poison. Once
instilled, oppressive cultural attitudes are at least as hard to remedy as are
imbibed cleaning fluids (Dorris, 1992). An antibias curriculum can serve as an
antidote, but unlearning Native American stereotypes is a lifelong struggle.
Good teachers help students learn by sharing the mistakes of the past as well as
by sharing contemporary understandings (Pewewardy, 1993).
Still other obstacles remain. Finding resources about Native Americans that
are not superficial and stereotypical remains a challenge to teachers in
developing antibias lessons. Even the most culturally sensitive teacher often
lacks the skills needed to evaluate curriculum materials and does not know where
to seek out better ones.
DEVELOPING ANTIBIAS NATIVE AMERICAN CURRICULUM
individual's approach to learning and to demonstrating (or teaching) what he or
she has learned is influenced by the values, norms, and socialization practices
of the culture in which that individual has been enculturated (Swisher & Deyhle, 1992). It is important, therefore, that before teachers begin developing
an antibias curriculum they examine their own underlying beliefs and ideologies
about Native Americans. This usually involves an initial period of critically
questioning and analyzing most of what they have learned about American Indians
and Alaska Natives. Reading books and articles written by Native scholars will
help. Some excellent resources for beginning this process are listed at the end
of this Digest.
Once a teacher understands the influences that have helped shape his or her
personal views of Native Americans, that teacher will be better prepared to
assess the knowledge and attitudes of his or her students. Thanks to television,
picture books, and movies, children--especially younger ones--continue to be
exposed to old, negative stereotypes of Native Americans. Once aware of the
images their students bring with them to the classroom, teachers can use this
knowledge to develop a curriculum that challenges students to develop critical
thinking skills in examining these cultural images. There are dangers lurking in
any process that leads to the breakdown of stereotypes. Teachers must guard
against leading students from viewing Native Americans as primitives or savages
to regarding them as only noble and good. Romanticizing Native Americans
succeeds only in replacing one unrealistic portrayal with another.
Teachers can integrate antibias learning into the entire curriculum at any
education level. One practical technique, called webbing, helps teachers and
students identify an array of possible topics for interdisciplinary learning
(Derman-Sparks, 1993-94). Webbing involves several steps:
First, determine the center of the web, the theme to be studied. An example is
the agricultural techniques of American Indians of New England.
Step two involves brainstorming possible issues that stem from the theme at the
center of the web. Examples could include indigenous dietary practices, the role
of Native women in New England and food production, or the connection between
the cultivation of land and Native American resistance to colonization.
In the third step, determine the level of awareness held by each member of the
class pertaining to Native Americans and the specific antibias issues of study.
Depending on the grade level, develop an exercise or set of questions that
requires students to draw from their individual knowledge (including
stereotypes) of American Indians in the region. Stories or role-playing can be
used to stimulate discussions.
In the final step, students help brainstorm a list of possible activities that
the students and teacher can pursue to fill in the gaps in student knowledge.
Incorporating the theme into all subject areas strengthens the antibias aspects
of the curriculum. In language arts, students could read a legend about how corn
came to a local Indian nation. In science, students could research the varieties
of corn grown in the past and today by Native peoples. Mathematics students
could calculate the yield produced by indigenous agricultural techniques.
DETECTING ANTI-INDIAN BIAS IN INSTRUCTIONAL MATERIALS
a teacher begins developing skills in detecting the cultural influences that
guide perceptions and beliefs, anti-Indian bias becomes increasingly obvious,
especially in instructional materials. There are several types of materials to
avoid using with students:
Materials that make sweeping generalizations about Native Americans. Such
materials fail to portray the tremendous diversity among Native American
cultures today and historically. More trustworthy materials identify American
Indians and Alaska Natives by their specific nations, tribes, or villages.
Materials that present only the colonizers' perspectives. These materials lack
any Native American perspective or voice. Such a lack of perspective is often
referred to as Eurocentrism. U.S. history textbooks that begin with the European
discovery of the Americas reveal a Eurocentric bias that disregards the
histories of the Indigenous nations of this hemisphere. Another example is world
history courses that cover ancient cultures in Asia, Europe, and Africa, but
exclude any mention of North and South America. This creates the impression that
there was nothing in the Americas worth mentioning until Europeans came.
Books and videos that exploit Native American cultural and spiritual traditions
for profit. Some "New Age" spiritual guides commit this error, which many Native
Americans find offensive.
Lack of respect for Native American intellectual property rights and Indigenous
knowledge. Similar to the New Age publications, this category includes the
publication of private or sacred information--such as knowledge about
pharmaceuticals or agricultural crop varieties--without the consent of the
Native American nation or community that developed them.
It is not always easy to detect these flaws when reviewing materials for
classroom use. One way of minimizing anti-Indian bias in curriculum materials is
to use Native American-controlled publishers and media distributors whenever
possible in exploring American Indian and Alaska Native themes with students. A
list of some resources and distributors you may want to consider appears at the
end of this Digest.
It is important for teachers to raise their
awareness of the influences affecting themselves, their students, and the school
culture in general when it comes to beliefs and attitudes regarding American
Indians and Alaska Natives. Hopefully, as they become more knowledgeable about
bias in the curriculum, teachers will be willing to share their knowledge,
instructional approaches, and materials with others, in this way becoming a
resource for others to learn about antibias approaches to curriculum and
instruction. The development of an antibias perspective in curriculum and
instruction about American Indians and Alaska Natives is now and will continue
to be an ongoing process, but one that holds great promise. By weaving the
concept of shared human experience and cultural diversity into all aspects of
the curriculum, the current generation of U.S. teachers and students could be
the last one to struggle against the racism and prejudice that have plagued
Native Americans and weakened the fabric of American culture.
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Derman-Sparks, L., & The A.B.C. Task Force.
(1989). Anti-bias curriculum: Tools for empowering young children. Washington,
DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Derman-Sparks, L. (1993-94, Winter). Empowering children to create a caring
culture in a world of differences. Childhood Education, 70 (2), 66-71.
Dorris, M. (1992). Why I'm not thankful for Thanksgiving. In B. Slapin &
D. Seale (Eds.), Through Indian eyes: The Native experience in books for
children (pp. 19-22). Philadelphia: New Society Publishers.
LeeKeenan, D. (1993). Strategies for implementing an anti-bias perspective
across the curriculum. Training manual, University of Massachusetts, School of
Education, Early Childhood Education Program, Amherst, MA.
Macedo, D. (1994). Literacies of power: What Americans are not allowed to
know. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Pewewardy, C. (1993). The red road: Culture and education of Native
Americans. Milwaukee: Honor Inc.
Swisher, K., & Deyhle, D. (1992). Adapting instruction to culture. In J.
Reyhner (Ed.), Teaching American Indian students (pp. 81-95). Norman: University
of Oklahoma Press.